Houses panel puts FCC on the hot seat


U.S. CongressSen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) spent the first half of the year chasing the FCC over the LightSquared proceeding – and now, in the true relay-race tradition, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is taking the baton and carrying it forward.

Although there is a full-fledged oversight committee in the House of Representatives, this one is a wing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It’s chaired by Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who is destined to be replaced next year after losing the chance to defend his seat against the Democrats during the Florida primaries.

According to the Subcommittee release, “This hearing will examine the process and decision-making leading up to the FCC’s grant of a conditional waiver to LightSquared on January 26, 2011. The hearing will focus on whether the FCC’s handling of LightSquared was consistent with prevailing FCC policies, procedures, and precedents.”

It will be held Friday 9/21/12 at 9:30 Eastern. It holds no particularly relevance for broadcasters other than its potential to shed light on FCC process.

Grassley spent a great deal of time attempting to get documents on the matter – a request the FCC refused, citing congressional rules that instruct it to respond only to legislators on relevant committees. Grassley is not a member of any such committee.

The result of Grassley’s frustration was a very lengthy delay to the beginning of the FCC commissioner careers of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai — Grassley blocked all attempts to get Senate confirmation of their nominations, finally relenting when he got access to files via the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The crux of the issue is the FCC’s decision to let LightSquared move forward with plans for a spectrum-based service, only to eventually deny permission due to the potential for the service to cause harmful interference to incumbent services.