FCC: No Contact With Gips About LightSquared

Sen. Grassley is seeking info on Gips' sale of company stock

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Monday that the chairman had no communications with South African Ambassador Don Gips during the commission's vetting of LightSquared, the company trying to launch a hybrid satellite/terrestrial wireless broadband service.

That came in response to a report on Gips' sale of stock in the company following the FCC's approval of the sale of the company back in 2009, then called Sky Terra, to a private equity firm Harbinger Capital Management, which is headed by Philip Falcone. That story was reported Friday by the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch.

Separately Friday, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told iWatch he was still waiting for some answers from the FCC about its relationship to LightSquared and the White House.

"The new details about the political and financial relationships between the Administration and the principals behind LightSquared make the case for transparency even stronger than before," Grassley told iWatch, according to a copy of the statement supplied by Grassley's office. "The more that's revealed, the more questions there are.  Without transparency, the public can't know whose interests the FCC is pursuing and so can't trust the agency's work. The FCC should comply with my request for information to uphold the public's trust."

Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee has repeatedly sought more information from the FCC on its communications with the White House and LightSquared backers, especially in the wake of a conditional waiver granted by the FCC under Genachowski to begin testing the service. Grassley said earlier this month that the FCC had been nonresponsive.

"[T]he Chairman didn't communicate with Gips at any point about the LightSquared plan," said a spokesman for the chairman. "FCC ex parte rules guarantee that all meetings to discuss open proceedings are made public with full transparency and accountability - without exception."

Gips is the former chief of the FCC's International Bureau under FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Genachowski is also a former top Hundt aide. Gips was co-chair of the general agency review process for the Obama transition team. Hunt was also on the review team, while Genachowski was tapped to help write tech policy for the new administration before getting the nod to head the FCC.

In January 2011 the FCC granted LightSquared's request for a waiver of FCC rules to test its proposed combination satellite/terrestrial service. The FCC conditioned the waiver, which allows the dual service to offer terrestrial-only devices as well, on working with the FCC, NTIA and other agencies to resolve a number of issues, including potential interference with GPS receivers.

"While we have deep respect for Senator Grassley, we respectfully disagree with the characterization of the exchange between staff in our offices," said a spokesperson for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in response to a Grassley letter on the subject three weeks ago. "As always, we remain responsive and look forward to working together on this and other issues."

Grassley, since April, has sought information about the FCC's conditional waiver--conditioned in part on not interfering with GPS. "His inquiry was prompted by the project being on a fast track for government approval, despite concerns that it could jam the existing navigational systems used in farming, trucking, air travel, law enforcement, by the military and in general consumer navigation," said his office back in early July, "and that the person funding the operation is a controversial hedge fund founder [Falconer] who is reportedly under federal investigation for questionable financial dealings."

A Grassley spokesperson said she was not aware that the FCC had responded to the Senator's July 5 letter (there was a deadline of July 25), following up on his April 27 letter. An FCC spokesperson was checking on the status of that response at press time.

There is certainly no administration party line supporting LightSquared's plan or the FCC's decision to grant the conditional waiver. The Department of Defense said at a June House hearing on the service that it could cause harmful interference to GPS, the principal knock on the plan by government and commercial users of GPS--including airline pilots and traffic controllers.