FCC chair won’t appear at LightSquared hearing

September 15, 2011

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

Update: Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) rebuked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for choosing not to appear before the strategic armed forces subcommittee.

“I consider the chairman's failure to show up today to be an affront to the House Armed Services Committee,” Turner said. Turner said he wanted to hear personally why the FCC agreed to a conditional waiver for LightSquared.

Original post: Amid increased scrutiny over the government’s handling of LightSquared’s satellite venture, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will not appear at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Thursday on GPS interference posed by the firm.

The hearing comes after reports by The Daily Beast and the Center for Public Integrity show connections between the White House and the satellite venture backed by billionaire Democratic supporter Philip Falcone.

Lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have questioned the process that led to what is seen as a fast-tracking of the FCC’s initial approval of LightSquared to operate as a commercial wireless venture, even amid complaints of dangerous GPS interference.

FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said on Thursday that the agency intends to send its head of engineering and technology, Julie Knapp, to testify. She said it was a technical hearing, and Knapp was the appropriate agency representative.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been listed as a witness on the subcommittee's Web site for days. Sun said it was a mistake.

“We received an invitation from the subcommittee for the chairman or his designee to testify,” she said.

But subcommittee chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) had met with Genachowski and had made it clear that he wanted the agency head to attend the hearing, according to spokesman Thomas Crosson.

“The FCC told us late yesterday that he would not be attending” Crosson said in an e-mail. “We had expected him to attend, and it was made clear as such.”

Genachowski’s appearance has been anticipated as fresh questions emerge about the agency’s role in LightSquared’s waiver approval last January to use non-satellite phones on their proposed network. The power of those phones would crowd out GPS signals, according to defense, aviation and oceanic federal officials.

The Daily Beast reported on Thursday that Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, said he was pressured by the White House to change his testimony for the hearing so that it sounded more favorable to LightSquared’s endeavors to operate a wholesale 4G LTE network.

In the story, “the White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.”

Separately, the Center for Public Integrity reported in an investigative piece that e-mails between the White House and LightSquared executives reveal meetings took place to discuss the venture while the company’s head, Falcone, was donating to the Democratic party.

Related:
Analyst reports key staff weren’t included in FCC decision on LightSquared

GOP decries FCC conditional approval of LightSquared

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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