In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) accused the White House and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of catering to the lobbyists of the now-bankrupt wireless company LightSquared and of stonewalling his investigation into the case.
Grassley noted that LightSquared hired dozens of lobbyists, including a former governor, three former senators and nine former members of Congress, to push for approval of its planned high-speed wireless network.
The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver last year to move forward with plans for its nationwide 4G network, but the commission pulled the waiver and moved to block the network after tests showed it would interfere with GPS devices.
The tests showed that LightSquared's signal did not bleed into the GPS band. Instead, the problem was that GPS receivers were too sensitive to filter out LightSquared's powerful cell towers operating on nearby frequencies.
The company filed for bankruptcy last week but is still trying to find a solution for its network.
Grassley accused the FCC of not taking the GPS interference problem seriously until late in the review process.
"It seems strange that a project that was so obviously flawed was allowed to go so far, but LightSquared had help," Grassley said, pointing to the influential lobbyists.
The FCC denied giving LightSquared any special treatment, but expanding wireless Internet access is a top priority for the commission under Chairman Julius Genachowski.
LightSquared would have been a new competitor to wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon and would have provided high-speed service to more than 260 million Americans.
The FCC did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Grassley's comments.
The Republican senator blocked a vote on President Obama's two nominees to the FCC for months to try to force the agency to turn over internal documents on its review of LightSquared.
The FCC refused to provide Grassley with the records, citing a long-standing policy against responding to investigations from lawmakers who do not serve on committees with jurisdiction over the agency.
Grassley said the policy "makes no sense."
"In over 30 years of conducting oversight I can say that when it comes to providing documents to Congress, the FCC is one of the worst federal agencies I have ever seen," he said.
He compared the investigation to his attempts to question the Justice Department over its "Fast and Furious" gun-running operation.
The FCC eventually turned over thousands of pages of documents to GOP lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who gave them to Grassley.
Grassley finally lifted his hold and the Senate unanimously approved the two nominees, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel, earlier this month.
In his floor speech on Tuesday, Grassley said both nominees are "highly qualified" and he is pleased that they were confirmed.
"It is unfortunate that the FCC’s stubborn refusal to respond to my simple request for information forced me to place a hold on their nominations for the past four months," he said.
The Republican senator said he will continue to press top FCC officials for answers on why they granted LightSquared the conditional waiver.