FCC officials took some tough questioning from House
Republicans on Friday over the FCC's waiver to LightSquared Friday in House
Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight Subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns
last hearing -- he lost his primary.
Stearns opined that LightSquared had invested $4 billion on
its proposed 4G wholesale mobile broadband network only to have its waiver
suspended and likely revoked over GPS interference issues, and said that the 40
MHz of spectrum involved should not be lying fallow while the FCC was pushing
broadcasters to give up spectrum for wireless, saying that was not "sound
FCC witnesses Julius Knapp, head of the Office of
Engineering and Technology, and Mindel De La Torre, chief of the International
Bureau, were on the same page in wishing the LightSquared investment had paid
off and that it could offer the wholesale service, but also pointed out that
after the GPS interference issues was raised, they could not risk public safety
given the concerns of government agencies over interference to navigation,
military GPS applications and more.
The FCC has taken steps to allow more flexible use of
satellite spectrum, and Knapp said the FCC was still open to solutions to the
LightSquared interference issues, though he would not offer any when asked and
said he could not guarantee there was a fix.
There were criticisms of the length of FCC comment periods,
or that the government might be setting a precedent that invoking public safety
would unnecessarily end spectrum debates going forward -- a point hammered on
by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.).
De La Torre confirmed that in a memo about LightSquared, she
had said that the GPS industry had been driving in the left lane and now that
it looked like there was going to be traffic there, the GPS industry was
"yelling bloody murder."
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was particularly tough,
pointing to the length -- 10 days -- of the comment period on the FCC's
proposed "aggressive" build-out conditions on LightSquared and saying
he thought that the FCC's haste was the enemy of good decision-making. De La
Torre pointed out that it had been a lengthy proceeding already and that the 10
days, which had included a three-day extension, was enough time for parties to
make their points and filings.
In response to a question, both De La Torre and Knapp said
they were unaware of any conversations between the FCC and White House over the
issue, which was essentially the only political turn to the hearing. After an
eight-month investigation by the subcommittee into the issue, that suggested
there were no political smoking guns.
Defending the FCC process was Democrat Diana DeGette of
Colorado, ranking member of the subcommittee, who said the FCC had been put in
a no-win situation, but had conducted the process responsibly and taken steps
to address the GPS concerns after they were raised late in the process.
DeGette said she would be concerned if the FCC had made
politically motivated decisions. "But I don't think that anyone thinks
that is the case." The FCC weighed the pros and cons and made a difficult
In their testimony, Knapp and De La Torre made the point
that the FCC did not hear from the GPS industry about GPS interference concerns
until late in the process and that if it had heard about them earlier, would
have taken steps earlier in the almost decade-long process.
Following the hearing, Jim Kirkland, VP and general counsel
of Trimble, a founding member of the GPS industry's Coalition to Save Our GPS,
called the FCC testimony "deeply misguided and wrong."
"The FCC repeatedly committed to these government users
that it would proactively protect GPS, including explicit statements to that
effect in 2003 and 2005, and government users and industry relied on these
commitments," said Kirkland. "Now, the FCC staff apparently believes
that it was only obligated to consider GPS interference issues if GPS
manufacturers raised them -- which would be an astonishing abandonment of the
FCC's public interest responsibilities."