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Policy

LightSquared Contacts Rile Grassley

1/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has
been seeking information from the Federal Communications
Commission and others about LightSquared’s waiver
to launch a 4G wholesale wireless network,
has written to LightSquared principal Philip
Falcone to ask him to explain what the
senator calls a questionable contact with
his office over the issue.

In the letter, Grassley said that contact
— comprising email messages from
both Falcone, chairman and CEO of
LightSquared owner Harbinger Capital,
and a person claiming to represent
LightSquared — “intimated benefits for
Grassley if he softened his inquiry of government
approval of the project.”

Grassley said the email from Falcone
— he supplied a redacted copy to
the press — suggested that the network
could be a “win” for Grassley, while the second example,
an email string with someone whom Grassley said
also arranged a booking on Fox News Channel for Falcone,
“hinted” that Iowa could get a call center. According
to the email messages, after Grassley’s office signaled
that they thought the suggestion was inappropriate, the
representative said he was only pointing out the issue’s
local connection to the senator.

“Mr. Ruelle does not, nor has he ever, worked for Mr.
Falcone, Harbinger or LightSquared as
an employee or a consultant,” Harbinger
spokesman Lew Phelps said. “No one at
Harbinger or LightSquared has had any
discussions or negotiations with Mr. Ruelle
with respect to approaching or contacting
Senator Grassley’s office regarding an
alleged quid pro quo, or a call center in
Iowa, which in any event would be inconsistent
with the LightSquared wholesale
business model. If such conversations occurred,
Mr. Ruelle was acting entirely on
his own and without the knowledge, authority,
or endorsement of Mr. Falcone,
Harbinger or LightSquared.”

Grassley is concerned that the FCC
rushed the waiver for LightSquared’s proposed 4G network
without sufficiently vetting how it would affect
satellite-based global positioning systems. The FCC made
the waiver conditional on resolving government GPS
issues, and has since said it would not approve the network
until those issues are resolved.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration
is currently preparing a report to the FCC on
recent government testing of LightSquared that concluded
it produced too much interference with GPS to be viable
in either the short or long-term, results LightSquared
has dismissed as bogus and controlled by GPS interests.

Grassley has also threatened to block any attempt seat
two new FCC commissioners until the FCC produces documents
related to the waiver. The agency has put some
correspondence online related to Freedom of Information
Act requests, but Grassley’s office said that is not responsive
to the request. In the meantime, Grassley’s hold
threat remains.

House Communications Subcommittee chairman
Greg Walden (R-Ore.) last week said he would hold hearings
on LightSquared, both on how the process moved so
far along before the GPS interference issues were raised
and about receiver standards. The fact that in-band transmissions
from LightSquared interfere with sensitive GPS
recievers is a major issue.

September