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Senator raising questions about LightSquared lobbying

Senator Charles Grassley asked companies claiming service disruption from Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared wireless network to provide information about their contacts with the U.S. government.

Letters went to navigation-equipment makers Trimble Navigation Ltd. and Olathe-headquartered Garmin Ltd., and farm-gear maker Deere & Co., according to a statement yesterday from Grassley’s office. The request was part of a deal with LightSquared to get the company to provide documents about its dealings with the White House and regulators, the statement said.

Sprint Nextel Corp. recently put on hold the groundwork for its network-hosting venture with LightSquared. The pact between those two companies, assuming LightSquared ultimately is able to light up its own network, is potentially worth billions to Sprint.

Grassley, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is investigating whether the Federal Communications Commission followed proper procedure in granting partial approval last year to LightSquared. U.S. officials are withholding final clearance as they weigh the scope of the Reston, Virginia-based service’s disruption of global-positioning system devices guiding airplanes, boats and cars.

“Ultimately, the FCC needs to be open and transparent,” Grassley said in the letters. “There are still numerous questions about the FCC’s decision to grant a waiver without transparency.”

Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Grassley asked Falcone and LightSquared Chief Executive Officer Sanjiv Ahuja on Oct. 5 for records of contacts with the White House and U.S. regulators to put “questions of improper influence” to rest.

LightSquared and its backer, Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, agreed to comply after six weeks of negotiations, provided Grassley made a similar request of GPS interests, Grassley said in yesterday’s letters.

Similar Request

“I am aware of no allegations” about communications between GPS interests and the FCC, Grassley said in the letters. “I am simply making this request consistent with the statement my office made” pledging to ask GPS companies for documents if that would evoke a release from LightSquared.

The FCC “has generated questions over its rush to grant approvals to the company for a proposal that would create broad and in some cases dangerous interference with the GPS devices used widely by the U.S. military, aviation, agriculture, and first responders,” according to the statement from Grassley’s office.

Two-Stage Process

Terry Neal, a spokesman for LightSquared, said the company “worked with Senator Grassley’s office to establish a two-stage process for providing the requested documents.”

“LightSquared completed the first stage several weeks ago, per our agreement with the senator’s office, and we will be working with the senator’s office to complete our production,” Neal said in an e-mailed statement.

Trimble is “happy to support Senator Grassley’s oversight,” Jim Kirkland, general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement. Deere, which has expressed concern that LightSquared’s service may interfere with tractors guided by GPS, will produce documents, Kenneth Golden, a spokesman, said by phone. Garmin “is pleased to supply Senator Grassley with relevant information,” Ted Gartner, a spokesman, said by phone.

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