Grassley refuses to lift hold on FCC nominees despite agency backtracking on LightSquared

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The FCC moved to "indefinitely suspend" LightSquared's authority to operate cell towers on Tuesday after the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) confirmed that there was "no practical way" to prevent the company's network from interfering with GPS devices.

“The FCC’s action seems to acknowledge the point I’ve been making since April," Grassley said in a statement Wednesday. "Prematurely granting a conditional waiver in a rushed process is not the way to get the right result. Now that the interference issue is settled, we need to find out more than ever why the FCC did what it did."

The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver last year to move forward with its nationwide 4G network, but agency officials said the company would only receive final approval if it could show it wouldn't interfere with GPS devices. 

"The agency put this project on a fast track for approval with what appears to have been completely inadequate technical research," Grassley said. "After all of this time and expense, still, no one outside of the agency knows why. That’s not the way the people’s government should work. The public’s business ought to be public."

FCC officials have declined to meet with Grassley on several occasions, saying the usual order of the Senate is to only meet with lawmakers who serve on committees with jurisdiction over their agency. Although Grassley is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, he does not sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the FCC. 

"Now that the FCC has backtracked on LightSquared, I’d like to see my Senate colleagues join my document request, especially the chairman of the only Senate committee that the FCC is willing to answer," Grassley said, referring to Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). "If we don’t find out how and why the FCC failed to avoid this controversy, then it will keep operating as a closed shop instead of the open, publicly accountable agency it should be.”

Testing 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.

LightSquared argued that it was the GPS industry's responsibility to build receivers that only listened to their own designated frequencies, but GPS companies accused LightSquared of trying to build a cellphone network relying on frequencies that should only be used by satellites, which transmit much fainter signals.

The FCC had said that by allowing a cellphone company to use frequencies traditionally used by satellites, it would eliminate regulatory barriers preventing more people from gaining access to wireless broadband.

But in light of NTIA's recommendation, the FCC acknowledged that the obstacles to LightSquared launching its network without disrupting millions of GPS devices were just too high.

Because of Grassley's hold, the FCC has been operating with only three of its usual five commissioners since the beginning of the year.

The Commerce Committee unanimously recommended the nominees, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel, in December.