Grassley: I’m not backing down on FCC holds until I get the LightSquared documents

posted at 2:00 pm on December 15, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

It didn’t take long for Sen. Charles Grassley to comment on the floor of the Senate about his holds on two presidential nominees for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), holds he placed in order to pressure the agency to produce documents on the LightSquared project. Grassley has tried for seven months to discover why the FCC allowed LightSquared to proceed with its attempt to turn frequencies allocated to low-power satellite transmissions into a terrestrial cell phone network that would interfere with millions of GPS receivers — as well as flight safety equipment for pilots that warn of approaching terrain. Noting that the Federal Aviation Administration estimated that this interference might cause as many as 800 deaths a year, Grassley wants to know why the FCC didn’t bother to test the system itself — and whether that decision has any relation to financial and political links to Barack Obama and the White House:

At one point, Grassley jokingly refers to himself in terms of the Occupiers, and returns to that point at the end to underscore the lack of transparency and cooperation coming from the FCC:

The FCC has already told me that it would likely provide these documents if certain members asked for them but not to any of the other 99.6 percent of Congress.  To paraphrase a popular slogan these days, I guess this makes me part of the 99.6 percent. … What we see today is an agency that is completely unaccountable and unanswerable to 99.6 percent of Congress and by extension, the American public.  This is simply wrong, and I will continue to hold the FCC’s nominees until this attitude changes.

We have already covered the issues of LightSquared and its parent, Harbinger, which already faces investigations by the SEC for potential fraud and “market manipulation,” as well as the connections between the two and the White House, and the administration’s pressure on Congressional witnesses to change their testimony to benefit LightSquared:

Grassley needs to stay on this — but it’s worth asking why the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Fred Upton isn’t working on this, too.  The fact that the FCC’s Julius Genachowski is avoiding disclosure strongly suggests that Grassley might find something interesting in the documents.  Perhaps that should be a hint to the House that this is worth probing.  In the meantime, Grassley needs to keep the holds in place as a reminder to the White House of their promises on transparency.

Here is the full text of Grassley’s speech:

Mr. President, the cornerstone of Congress’ ability to effectively oversee the Federal government is the free and open access to information. 231 days ago – on April 27th, I made a very simple request. I requested that the Federal Communications Commission turn over communications regarding its controversial approval of the LightSquared project.

LightSquared is a company owned by a hedge fund called Harbinger Capital Partners that is seeking FCC approval to use its satellite spectrum to build a terrestrial wireless network. To accomplish its goals, LightSquared has already spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and made large political donations.

The problem is that LightSquared’s signals would, according to Federal government tests, cause massive interference with the Global Positioning System, GPS.

GPS is a critical tool for everything from the military drones and missiles to car and ship navigation. LightSquared’s initial plan, which the FCC conditionally approved, would have interfered with just about every single GPS user.

The surprising fact is that there’s no evidence the FCC even tested LightSquared’s plan before approving it.

In fact, the FCC granted this waiver, which is estimated to be worth at least $10 billion to LightSquared, in a shortened comment period starting right around Thanksgiving 2010.

Giving a company a possible $10 billion windfall in a holiday-shortened comment period without doing any testing is suspicious. Risking our nation’s GPS assets, including the role they play in defending our nation, to accomplish this goal is downright dangerous.

The question I’m asking is; why would the FCC do this? To get to the bottom of this question I asked the FCC for documents. The FCC, an agency whose employees are supposed to work for the American people, said no to my request.

My staff was told that the FCC intentionally ignored my document request. The FCC officials said that they have determined that they will only be responsive to two members of Congress – the Chairs of the House and Senate Commerce Committee. Not the Ranking Members of those Committees. Not the other members of those Committees, majority or minority. Not the Majority Leader of the Senate. Not the Speaker of the House. And certainly not the Senior Senator from Iowa. If you’re one of the 99.6 percent of Congress who doesn’t chair one of those two committees – sorry, you’re out of luck. No documents for you.

This attitude is unacceptable. I conveyed my concerns to the FCC again on July 5th and asked again for documents. Again, I was stonewalled. This time, the FCC claimed that since I can’t subpoena the FCC, it would not respond.

President Obama committed to run the most transparent administration in history. Yet the FCC is saying, if you can’t force us to be open – we won’t do it.

I wrote another letter asking the FCC for documents on September 8th, and again, I was stonewalled. This attitude brings us to where we are today, 231 days later. The FCC’s decision to impede Congress’ constitutional duty of oversight has forced me to make a difficult decision.

I do not take the decision to hold a nominee lightly. But when an agency flagrantly disregards congressional oversight, something must be done. Before I publicly announced my intention to hold the nominees I – through staff – contacted the FCC officials. I informed them that if documents were not forthcoming, I would hold the FCC’s nominees. I was surprised and disappointed by their response.

Despite knowing my intentions, they chose not to provide any documents. As a result, I am honoring my promise to hold the nominees. It is unfortunate that the FCC has chosen this path. Due to the FCC’s decision to hide its actions from the public and Congress, these nominations are now stalled in the Senate.

The question I would ask today is why? The FCC has already told me that it would likely provide these documents if certain members asked for them but not to any of the other 99.6 percent of Congress. To paraphrase a popular slogan these days, I guess this makes me part of the 99.6 percent.

My concern is not just specific to this document request. It is broader than that. In the future, any member of Congress may request documents from the FCC. As the courts have put it, every member has a voice and a vote in the process under our Constitution.

Each one of us has the authority to request and receive information from the Executive Branch in order to inform those votes. That authority is inherent in each member’s responsibility to participate in the legislative process.

The creation of the Committee system and the delegation of certain responsibilities to Committee Chairmen doesn’t change that. Individual members still have a right and responsibility to inform themselves by requesting information directly from agencies. For Congress to have a complete view of how an agency works, we need to have access to documents. Turning off that flow of information short-circuits transparency and hurts accountability.

In this case, the FCC’s actions have real world effects. The FCC’s decision to grant a waiver to LightSquared created uncertainty for GPS users. This includes the Federal government.

The Federal Aviation Administration claims that 800 people would die as a result of LightSquared’s initially proposed network. To the FAA, the FCC’s decision could have killed people. The Department of Defense wrote a letter to the FCC saying it was not consulted by the FCC. And press reports say that General Shelton, who heads up GPS for the armed forces, said that LightSquared interference would harm the military’s use of GPS. To the Department of Defense, the FCC’s actions would have harmed national security. These are only two agencies, but the Department of Transportation, NASA, and NOAA, among others, have also raised concerns about LightSquared’s plan.

The effects of the FCC’s decision aren’t just limited to the federal government. They also affect ordinary Americans. Here are just two examples: For Americans who hope that NextGen air traffic control will reduce air travel delays, the FCC’s actions would have continued to increase air traffic, wasting time, fuel and ultimately, money for the flying public. For Americans who use precision agriculture to save time and money, the FCC’s actions would harm the accuracy and reliability of their equipment. This again leads to wasted energy, lower crop yields and higher prices for products like wheat and corn.

At the end of the day, the FCC’s actions would cost the American consumer money. Does the FCC care? I don’t know. But the agency certainly has not provided any evidence that it took any of this information into consideration. What we see today is an agency that is completely unaccountable and unanswerable to 99.6 percent of Congress and by extension, the American public. This is simply wrong, and I will continue to hold the FCC’s nominees until this attitude changes.

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Comment pages: 1 2

blink on December 15, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Oh, suddenly now you are only interested in making sure the government is not overlooking new ideas? Really? This is not a new idea. There are other companies such as AT&T and Sprint who can provide this service, on other frequencies that they paid for, without interfering with GPS.

I am done with your posts. You continually change objections from one thing to another, willfully misconstrue what people are saying, and I highly doubt you would recognize a correct story if it bit you on the nose.

This was never about accuracy with you and it isn’t about yearning for new technologies now.

Lily on December 15, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Hey blink!! Thought for sure you’d take advantage of open reg and pick up a few more new handles…..this one’s pretty worn out.

Everyone here but the noobs pretty much knows what a contrarian, inconsistent, uninformed, d-bag-hack you are…….why not use one of the new names and start over again?

I’m actually glad you didn’t….You never dissapoint!

Tim_CA on December 15, 2011 at 5:36 PM

Tim_CA on December 15, 2011 at 5:36 PM

Hey, Mr. Toughguy. All talk and no action. Wuss.

blink on December 15, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Never change sweetie!!


Tim_CA on December 15, 2011 at 6:04 PM

Obama was an investor in the original company.

Lily on December 15, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Obama didn’t even get elected to the Senate until November 2004.

blink on December 15, 2011 at 2:59 PM


You need to pay closer attention to some details:


“…this was published at the Huffington Post, hardly a news outlet that should fear being referred to Attack Watch.

Obama himself was an early investor and came to the presidency a firm believer in expanding broadband. He remains close to other early investors, like Gips and investment manager George W. Haywood, inviting some to luxe social events at the White House and more intimate gatherings like a night of poker and beer.

Obama installed one of his biggest fundraisers, Julius Genachowski, a campaign “bundler” and broadband cheerleader, as chairman of the FCC, whose staff granted LightSquared a special waiver to operate.”

Yoop on December 15, 2011 at 6:19 PM

blink on December 15, 2011 at 6:22 PM

Awww….did I hit a little too close to mome hon?


Tim_CA on December 15, 2011 at 6:40 PM

This doesn’t at all prove that GPS receivers are negligently susceptible to signals on frequencies outside their own spectrum.

Try again.

blink on December 15, 2011 at 5:33 PM

There is no such thing as “negligently susceptible” anywhere but in the wet dreams of LightSquared executives, LightSquared stockholders, and their wholly-owned LightSquared politicians.

The FCC has ALWAYS required new emitters (aka those employing transmitters) to bear the burden of resolving conflicts.

This whole issue is caused by a massive government FAILURE: the failure of a grossly (criminally?) negligent FCC to fulfil its basic charter. The same political interference mechanisms which caused the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are at work here.

As this issue is investigated further, I predict that we’ll discover massive corruption, stock fraud, payoffs, kickbacks, and other criminal acts.

landlines on December 15, 2011 at 7:51 PM

I’m so sorry that offends a sheep like yoi – someone that has never disagreed with the majoroity on here.

What’s yoi, and what does it have to do with the majoroity?

itsspideyman on December 15, 2011 at 8:29 PM

but it’s worth asking why the House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Fred Upton isn’t working on this, too.

i’m sure upton will get on that right after he repeals the ban on incandescent lightbulbs…/

dbilly76 on December 15, 2011 at 9:55 PM

47 C.F.R. § 25.255 (“If harmful interference is caused to other services by ancillary MSS ATC operations, either from ATC base stations or mobile terminals, the MSS ATC operator must resolve any such interference.”).

itsspideyman on December 15, 2011 at 5:17 PM

Case closed about what?

This doesn’t at all prove that GPS receivers are negligently susceptible to signals on frequencies outside their own spectrum.

Try again.

blink on December 15, 2011 at 5:33 PM

That section doe not have to “prove” anything. GPS is easily defined as “other services”, even if we accept your posit that the ancillary MSS ATC can be defined a cell phone network. And it is specifically the MSS ATC that failed “harmful interference” testing in this regard. Twice.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on December 15, 2011 at 11:25 PM

In 2003, the FCC adopted initial rules allowing commercial satellite service providers to operate a ground network integrated with their satellite service. These integrated ground networks are referred to as an Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) of a Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) and were intended to ―fill-in‖ gaps and boost the penetration of the original satellite signal within dense urban environments. The integrated ATC network would simply augment the satellite signal.
The initial ATC ruling permitted MSS providers to enhance their satellite service but was not intended to become an independent terrestrial network. The FCC stated in the 2003 ruling:
The purpose of our grant of ATC authority is to provide satellite licensees flexibility in providing satellite services that will benefit consumers, not to allow licensees to profit by selling access to their spectrum for a terrestrial-only service

You don’t know what you’re talking about. There is a significant difference between power levels of satellite transmission, for which the GPS receivers were designed and under which the original waiver was given, and the ATC terrestrial power levels. In 2011, Lightsquared requested a waiver to operate terrestrial only operations in the bands adjacent to GPS. The power of a terrestrial systems adjacent to space-based GPS bands overwhelms the ability of the spread-spectrum receivers to function properly.
The receivers were appropriately designed to function in the presence of other space-based transmitters, not a ground-based system. Had lightsqared stuck with its original space-based design the GPS receivers would have worked.

STL_Vet on December 16, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Well done Sen. Grassley!!

PapaBear on December 16, 2011 at 10:25 AM

i just called the house energy and commerce committee and upton’s DC office. i’m left wondering, am i the only reader of this website who is willing to take 2 minutes to pick up the phone and make a couple of calls? upton’s office was completely unaware of this article… why?

dbilly76 on December 16, 2011 at 11:28 AM

It’s good that some one is putting a hold on this project for now. There are a few really basic questions that need to be answered before anything moves forward. First: LightSquare web site states that there is no problems, eludes that there was at one time but corrected it. DOD states 75% of gps’s will not work. This is a major difference, who is talking about what? Next someone needs to clean up the cloud of backroom political pay backs. Finally: what is it they are trying to do? Is this just another Cell Phone system and Broad Ban Internet system with special marketing advantages or just what is it. The rural areas have all had broad ban for at least 20 years with satellite up links and down links.

jpcpt03 on December 16, 2011 at 12:26 PM

In 2004, the FCC granted LightSquared (then known as MSV) conditional approval to build its integrated ATC ground-based wireless network using its satellite spectrum near the GPS signal.3 At that time, the GPS industry concluded that interference with GPS signal would be manageable as the ATC would simply augment the satellite signal.

In 2004, the FCC gave conditional approval for the terrestrial component to augment the satellite signal(i.e. integrated). This augmentation was for hard to reach places, like urban environments. It wasn’t until 2011 that LightSquared requested approval for a separate terrestrial only network.

What LightSquared is finding is the same problem as the Iridium phone system found 15 years ago. If you want a satellite-based phone system that has reliable reception you need large antennas or more power. LightSquared owns the band, but can’t provide a competitive product without trashing GPS receivers.

STL_Vet on December 16, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Comment pages: 1 2