GOP lawmakers seeking cost of LightSquared inquiry to taxpayers

Two GOP lawmakers asked the Obama administration on Tuesday to estimate how much the federal government has spent on its review of wireless company LightSquared.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted LightSquared a conditional waiver last year to move forward with plans for a nationwide 4G network, but the agency now plans to block the network after tests showed it would interfere with GPS devices, including ones used by airplane pilots.

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Republicans have questioned whether the company received special treatment from the Obama administration, and GOP lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have launched a probe into the FCC's review of the company.  

In Tuesday's letter, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) asked Larry Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), how much money the government spent testing LightSquared's network, how many employees worked on the project and whether the administration will ask for reimbursement.

The lawmakers noted that LightSquared's chief financial backer, billionaire Philip Falcone, is considering bankruptcy for the company.

"If LightSquared does indeed declare bankruptcy, our concern is that the federal government will be unable to recoup the taxpayer dollars it has expended funding testing on LightSquared's network," the Republicans wrote.

LightSquared declined to comment on the letter.

NTIA conducted its round of testing at the request of the GPS industry, which was worried about interference from LightSquared's network.

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

Grassley has blocked President Obama's two FCC nominees in an effort to force the FCC to release internal records on its review of LightSquared.

Last September, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) accused Obama of "crony capitalism" for allegedly giving favor to his political supporters, pointing Falcone.

Falcone has donated to both Democrats and Republicans in recent years and says he is a registered Republican. He has denied any attempts to influence the process through political connections. 

The White House and the FCC have denied giving any special treatment to LightSquared, but expanding high-speed Internet access is a priority for the administration.

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