Senator Blasts FCC's Genachowski for 'Empty Offer' Regarding LightSquared

By Josh Long Comments
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A U.S. senator is peeved that the Federal Communications Commission hasn't made its staff available to discuss the agency's review of LightSquared, the company whose multibillion-dollar business plans have been frustrated by government concerns that it wireless network will interfere with Global Positioning System devices.

For several months, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley has criticized the FCC for granting LightSquared a waiver that put the company on track to launch a national high-speed wireless network.

Grassley has asserted that the agency's decision was premature, and he has indicated that an FCC staff member that was most likely involved with the LightSquared project had a conflict of interest because he previously worked for a public relations firm that represented LightSquared. Grassley on Wednesday criticized FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for not honoring his request for a meeting with FCC staff members, including Joshua Gottheimer, who previously worked as an executive vice president for a well-known public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller.

Grassley also had sought a meeting with another FCC staff member Paul de Sa, who served as chief of the office of strategic planning and policy analysis and reportedly was in charge of the LightSquared project. He left the agency last month; his office worked on such matters as merger reviews, broadband adoption and deployment, and spectrum policy.

"The FCC chairman wrote to me last October that he would 'continue to make staff available to discuss this matter further' with me or my staff at our 'convenience.' That turned out to be an empty offer," Grassley said Wednesday in a statement to reporters and editors. "The FCC has refused to allow access to two staff members who likely would be able to shed some light on the FCC's questionable decision to give the green light to the LightSquared project. It's unfortunate that this agency operates as a closed shop when the public's business ought to be public."

In an emailed statement, FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun said de Sa was one of many staff members at the agency who participated in deliberations concerning LightSquared. At least five bureaus and offices were involved in the deliberations, she said.

As for Gottheimer, he joined the FCC "months after the Commission approved LightSquared's plan to build a nationwide 4G network, which has been conditioned on resolution of harmful interference issues," Sun said.

"The Commission's career ethics staff reviewed his potential recusal requirements, as it does those of other FCC officials. The ethics team determined that LightSquared and its predecessors were not clients of Mr. Gottheimer while he was employed by Burson-Marsteller, and Mr. Gottheimer did not work on those matters," Sun said.

The FCC recently proposed revoking LightSquared's waiver and blocking the company from launching its high-speed network after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) concluded there is no practical way for LightSquared to mitigate harm to GPS devices while operating its network.

LightSquared, which recently announced that its CEO Sanjiv Ahuja has resigned, has until March 16 to respond to the FCC's proposals as well as the letter from NTIA.

Meanwhile, Sun said the FCC is cooperating with a House subcommittee concerning its review of LightSquared matters.

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