LightSquared Waiver Subject of House Hearing

WASHINGTON: The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing this Friday on the fast-track waiver LightSquared received from the Federal Communications Commission allowing it to proceed with terrestrial broadband operations in spectrum designated primarily for satellite operations.

The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), will follow up on a February request directed at FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seeking an explanation for the waiver and the process leading up to it. Stearns, Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee asked for all written and electronic communications pertaining to the waiver. They also submitted a series of questions, including why the waiver was granted without a vote, and if the move was unprecedented.

LightSquared secured the waiver in January of 2011, on the condition that its proposed network did not interfere with global positioning systems operating in adjacent spectrum. The far-reaching GPS community united in opposition to LightSquared, prompting a flood of comments at the FCC. Several tests over the next year indicated that full GPS noninterference could not be achieved. They were disputed by LightSquared, but the FCC vacated the waiver in early 2012.

LightSquared, backed by New York-based hedge fund Harbinger Capital, filed for bankruptcy in May. Harbinger had invested a reported $3 billion in LightSquared, envisioned as a wholesale provider of 4G LTE wireless broadband service. The venture secured more than 30 wholesale agreements before the FCC waiver was vacated. It also cut a $9 billion, 15-year shared services deal with Sprint, which Sprint terminated in March, with LightSquared getting $65 million in the break-up, according to Reuters.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers came together in June and asked the FCC to review alternative spectrum for LightSquared, Ars Technicareported. In July, Bloombergreported that the company was working on debtor-in-possession loans of as much as $51.4 million to make spectrum lease payments and fund “building projects.”

Doug Smith, architect of the proposed network and LightSquared’s former chief network officer, was appointed board chairman and CEO in August, replacing former CEO Sanjiv Ahuja.

This week’s hearing, entitled “The LightSquared Network: An Investigation of the FCC’s Role,” is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 21 in Room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Witnesses will be announced and are by invitation only.

~ Deborah D. McAdams