House Republicans grill FCC over blocking LightSquared

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans criticized the Federal Communications Commission on Friday for blocking LightSquared from launching a nationwide high-speed cellular network.

At a hearing of the Oversight subcommittee, Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) questioned whether the FCC was too quick to dismiss the company's plans and urged commission officials to continue working to find a solution for the now-bankrupt company.

The argument breaks from the position of other congressional Republicans, who have accused the Obama administration of being too cozy with LightSquared.


The FCC granted the company a conditional waiver last year, but the agency came under fire from Republicans after evidence surfaced that LightSquared's cell towers could disrupt GPS devices, including those used by airplane pilots.

Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Minn.) accused President Obama of "crony capitalism" for allegedly giving favor to his political supporters, pointing to Philip Falcone, who has invested billions of dollars in LightSquared.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 Iowa Democratic Party chair says he received multiple threats after op-ed critical of Trump MORE (R-Iowa) claimed the White House and the FCC catered to LightSquared's well-connected lobbyists. For months, Grassley blocked a Senate vote on the president's two FCC nominees in a bid to force the agency to release internal documents on its review of the company.

Republicans compared LightSquared to Solyndra, the solar firm that received government funding before going belly-up.

In February, under pressure from Republicans, the FCC revoked LightSquared's waiver and moved to block its network, concluding there was no practical way to solve the interference problem.

The company is still trying to find a solution for its network, but was forced to file for bankruptcy in May.

At Friday's hearing, Republicans accused the FCC of unnecessarily destroying a business that could have provided cellphone service to millions of customers.  

Stearns argued that the interference problem was the fault of the GPS industry — not LightSquared.

Testing showed 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 FCC and the Commerce Department concluded that it would be economically unfeasible to reprogram millions of GPS devices.

Stearns compared the situation to a car veering into the wrong lane of a highway and argued that it is the FCC's responsibility to ensure that everyone stay in his or her own lane.

He also noted that tests showed that many GPS devices suffered no interference from LightSquared's signal.

Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) argued that companies should not be allowed to "squat" on radio frequencies that don't belong to them, and Rep. Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithGOP lawmakers press social media giants for data on impacts on children's mental health Lawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack House Republicans urge Democrats to call hearing with tech CEOs MORE (R-Va.) said the GPS industry only raised interference concerns late in the regulatory process.

"Often when you don't raise an objection in other areas of the law, you lose them," he said.

Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, testified that the FCC's review was "fact-based and transparent."

Knapp said he hopes the agency will be able to find a solution for LightSquared, but he declined to weigh in on whether there are any promising proposals.

Stearns, who lost his primary earlier this year, said the hearing would be his last as chairman.