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GOP senator says FCC hiding information on LightSquared

(Sprint Connection note: Below you’ll find two recent stories about LightSquared. A little background: LightSquared could be a critical partner to Sprint in the next few years. It’s promised $9 billion for the job of hosting LTE 4G service. LightSquared would team that 4G service with satellite service to give sometimes broadband and nearly ubiquitious coverage across the country. LightSquared, however, must still raise the money, and getting regulatory approval is a major barrier to winning over investors.

There’s another problem. LightSquared would operate its signals in a radio spectrum that had long been reserved for satellite phones. Because no satellite phone company has ever generated much business, that spectrum has mostly gone unused. The spectrum also exists next to the frequency used by satellite navigation devices. So GPS makers such as Olathe-headquartered Garmin Ltd. have been yowling about how LightSquared’s service could jam their signals.

Several studies confirm that there is a danger of jamming. Some analysts back LightSquared’s argument in suggesting the problem has been sloppy use of the spectrum by the GPS industry. The industry disagrees. And LightSquared has agreed to make adjustments and not use all of the spectrum tentatively assigned to it.

Complicating things further, the main investor in LightSquared has poured in big campaign donations to Democrats. That’s prompted Republicans to suggest the wheels were greased.)

Senator Charles Grassley said the Federal Communications Commission is hiding information about its handling of Philip Falcone’s LightSquared wireless venture, which faces scrutiny over interference with navigation devices.

Documents released by the agency on LightSquared were already publicly available, Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said Friday in an e-mailed statement.

“The FCC needs to stop playing games and make itself accountable,” said Grassley, who is the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee. The agency has refused to explain its process for granting LightSquared tentative approval in January, according to the release.

LightSquared has proposed offering wireless high-speed Internet service to 260 million people over airwaves formerly reserved mainly for satellites. Makers and users of global- positioning system devices say the service could disrupt navigation by aircraft, boats, tractors and automobiles.

LightSquared, backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, is seeking final U.S. approval after pledging steps toward resolving interference concerns. Federal officials are overseeing additional tests.

The FCC made the documents available on a website.

“This holiday-week document dump and the fact that these documents are already publicly available is a continuation of the FCC’s pattern of hiding any actual information regarding the LightSquared waiver,” Grassley said.

Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, didn’t immediately reply to a telephone call and e-mail.

Grassley has said he would block two nominees to the FCC because the agency hasn’t answered questions he has been posing since April.

AND FROM A FEW DAYS EARLIER:

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts asked colleagues to prevent Federal Communications Commission approval of Philip Falcone’s LightSquared until the agency shows the wireless service won’t disrupt the global-positioning system.

“There is too much at stake in interfering with a tool we all use, and on which our public safety and national security depend so heavily,” Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said in an e- mailed statement on Nov. 16.

Roberts introduced a measure yesterday to keep the FCC from using appropriated funds for approving LightSquared until it resolves interference concerns, according to the statement. It’s unclear when the measure, an amendment to a funding bill, will face an initial vote, Sarah Little, a spokesman for Roberts, said in an e-mail.

LightSquared wants to use airwaves formerly reserved mainly for satellites to offer high-speed wireless Internet to as many as 260 million people. GPS uses signals from satellites, and its makers and users say stronger emissions by LightSquared may interfere with navigation by aircraft, boats, tractors and automobiles.

Roberts’s proposal “is unnecessary and redundant” because the FCC has said it won’t decide until the GPS issue is resolved, Terry Neal, a vice president for Reston, Virginia- based LightSquared, said in an e-mailed statement.

Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail and telephone call seeking comment.

LightSquared, backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, won tentative assent from the FCC in January, and is seeking final approval after pledging steps toward resolving interference concerns. Federal officials are overseeing additional tests.

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