Grassley to lift block on FCC nominees amid LightSquared tangle

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.) said he plans to stop blocking confirmation of two Federal Communications Commission nominees caught in the middle of his investigation into the agency’s handling of satellite venture LightSquared.

In a harshly worded statement, Grassley, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the FCC appears to have shown preference to the private firm. He said the company benefited from regulatory decisions by the FCC because its business supported the agency’s quest to bring more broadband Internet to rural areas.

With new FCC documents provided by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Grassley said he is now able to move ahead with his investigation and will lift his hold on nominees Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat.

Their appointments will fill vacancies on the five-member FCC, which is at the center of controversies over broadcast political disclosure rules and decisions to put billions of federal dollars into wireless and other Internet projects.

In the case of LightSquared, Grassley said a review of documents raised questions about whether the FCC was a “cheerleader” for the firm. He did not elaborate on the details in the documents.

“The documents show that rather than being an objective arbiter, the commission appeared to be enthusiastic about the LightSquared project and wanted to see it materialize,” Grassley said.

FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun declined to comment on Grassley’s criticism of the FCC’s handling of LightSquared.

“We are pleased this roadblock to the confirmation of two outstanding nominees appears to have been removed,” she said.

LightSquared spokesman Terry Neal declined to comment on Grassley’s statement.

Grassley said his staff expects to review more than 1,000 more documents shared by the House committee.

“Since there is now a process in place to obtain all of the relevant documents from the FCC, I intend to lift my hold on the two FCC nominees. But my inquiry is not over,” Grassley said.

The FCC had rejected Grassley’s request for internal LightSquared documents, saying his position on the Judiciary committee does not give him jurisdiction over over the FCC. But it recently agreed to a similar request by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Grassley’s investigation goes back to the beginning of 2011, when the FCC granted a waiver that some experts said put LightSquared on a fast track to become a national wireless network operator.

That decision alarmed the military and makers of global positioning systems who said devices on LightSquared’s network would interfere with GPS. That concern was confirmed by the White House’s own tests earlier this year and the FCC said recently it would put off the LightSquared project until a technical solution was found.

Related:

FCC’s move angers LightSquared investor Falcone

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

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