Was LightSquared waiver a political prize?

September 28, 2011

Opposition to the GPS-jamming mobile-satellite network planned by communications venture LightSquared moved forward on two fronts last week, with congressional critics pointing to possible political pressure on regulators during the Federal Communications Commission's process that resulted in conditional approval of the firm's application.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) raised questions about political interference and defended GPS users against a LightSquared media blitz in a Sept. 22 letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“Your January 2011 authorization was conditional on LightSquared successfully resolving interference issues. We urge you to resist political pressure to grant LightSquared an authorization that could jeopardize the nation's unique spectrum resource—GPS,” wrote Petri, aviation subcommittee chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Also on Sept. 22, six Republican members of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and called on their panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), to probe evidence of “administration bias” in the LightSquared application.

Their letter called for “aggressive investigation” of the “role of the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House, and the Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, in a short-circuited rule making that threatens to jeopardize national security.” Harbinger has invested $2.9 billion in LightSquared, according to a description of investors on the company's website.

On Sept. 21, LightSquared posted a news release announcing that it had signed an agreement with Javad GNSS to develop a “simple, affordable solution to GPS interference issues.”

“We appreciate the continued interest that members of Congress are expressing as it relates to LightSquared and the potentially devastating impact their plan would have on our GPS users” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.

Signers of the letter to Issa and Cummings included Reps. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), John Fleming (R-La.), and Austin Scott (R-Ga.).