FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski did not refuse to testify before a House Armed Services subcommittee panel, according to FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun.
That came in response to Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who blasted the chairman for "refusing to appear" as a witness Thursday at a hearing on the FCC's decision to grant a waiver to LightSquared to use satellite spectrum to deliver terrestrial wireless broadband service. GPS interference issues, including involving DOD and other agencies, have put that approval on hold while more testing is conducted.
Turner called Genachowski's failure to appear an "affront" to the committee, "symptomatic of the disregard by the chairman to the consequences of the FCC's Jan. 26 waiver to LightSquared," and an attempt to avoid questions about it.
"The subcommittee invited the Chairman or a designee, they agreed to a designee," said Sun, in a statement e-mailed to B&C, which was another Julius, Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Julius Knapp. "The Chairman never refused to testify nor did his staff make any such suggestions."
Turner said Genachowski had agreed to answer in writing, and he appreciated that, but suggested that was insufficient. Turner also pointed out that Genachowski had cautioned about what he might say at a hearing prejudicing the process. Turner was not assuaged. "Personally, I believe this is an absolute effort by the chairman to avoid the oversight questions by Congress, to avoid the responsibility of the issue of how this will affect GPS and that the FCC's process appears to be irregular on to how the matter is moving forward."
A source close to the chairman said that "at no point did the chairman refuse to testify, and Congressman Turner and his staff knows it," adding that any suggestion otherwise is an attempt to score political points.
In a statement late Thursday, LightSquared Chairman Sanjiv Ahuja weighed in on allegations that LightSquared's friends in high places helped grease the skids in Washington. "It's difficult to charge that LightSquared has undue political influence when it was denied the opportunity to testify at [Thursday's] hearing of the House Armed Service Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee," he said, "or even be allowed a one-on-one meeting with the chairman of that committee prior to the hearing, as the GPS industry was given."
Republican legislators have pressed the FCC for info on any discussions with the White House and whether the administration put any pressure on the agency. The Administration is pushing hard for boosting 4G wireless broadband, which is what LightSquared plans to deliver on a wholesale basis. Ahuja said it was "ludicrous" to suggest the company had relied on political connections.
"This is a private company that has never taken one dollar in taxpayer money. About $10,600 sits in the LightSquared PAC. The founder of LightSquared has given to candidates in both political parties in the last eight years, with two thirds of his contributions going to Republicans because of the founder's free market philosophy," he said in a statement. "I gave $30,400 in contributions to both parties in late 2010."
The FCC announced on Sept. 13 that it would have to do more testing on a LightSquared proposal to modify its service to address the GPS interference issues.