Concerned about GPS, Turner calls for LightSquared investigation

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 15-Rep. Michael Turner, Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, took the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Obama Administration to task for moving ahead with approval for the LightSquared network, despite “significant” threats to national security.


“LightSquared's proposed network of 40,000 base stations around the U.S., which broadcast at an adjacent signal frequency to the signal used by the GPS system, but at five billion times the signal strength, will render useless the Department of Defense's GPS receivers,” Turner said in his opening statement today.  


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Citing several reports about an “irregular process” for the LightSquared approval that some have tried to link to campaign contributions, Turner said that, as a member of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, he will be asking Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Towns to promptly investigate this matter.


Several agricultural equipment companies, input suppliers and farm organizations, who formed a Coalition to Save our GPS, also oppose approval for LightSquared, fearing that their Global Positioning Systems will no longer be able to operate. Members include AGCO, Deere & Co., Caterpillar and Trimble, along with the Agricultural Retailers Association, Growmark, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and U.S. Rice Federation.

Earlier this year, tests revealed the network interferes with GPS devices, including those used by agriculture and the military.

Although FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski refused to appear before the subcommittee today, the FCC had a change of heart about the LightSquared approval and issued a Public Notice Tuesday that the “potential for harmful interference” meant that “additional targeted testing is needed.”

On January 26th of this year, the FCC originally granted a conditional waiver of its own rules allowing LightSquared to establish a terrestrial broadband network and be freed of certain gating requirements which were designed to keep any potential terrestrial service from overwhelming the satellite spectrum that LightSquared held.

“The Chairman of the FCC knew there were concerns about the proposed waiver for LightSquared, as he received a letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn on January 12, two weeks before the waiver was issued,” Turner said in his opening statement. The Deputy Secretary wrote to Mr. Genachowski that “there is strong potential for interference to these critical National Security Space Systems.”  

Many have observed that the FCC followed an “irregular process”on the LightSquared waiver, Turner said.

“The National Legal and Policy Center stated in a February 2, 2011 letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that, “over the course of the past year, a series of odd decisions, questionable meetings and procedural anomalies at the Federal Communications Commission and White House highlight Mr. Falcone's growing influence in the hallways of government.” 

Phillip Falcone is the CEO of the hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners, which owns LightSquared.  

Yesterday, the Center for Public Integrity released a report detailing, “Emails show wireless firm's communications with White House as campaign donations were made,” Turner said.

Several other lawmakers have raised “red flags” about Falcone's political contributions and connections with President Barack Obama and key Democrats. Earlier this year, GOP critics pointed to large donations to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, made shortly after Falcone visited the White House, that they say appeared to be related to the FCC's fast track approval of Harbinger's acquisition of a company called SkyTerra, which later became LightSquared.

 In 2007, when the New York Times reported then Sen. Barack Obama's investment in SkyTerra, he claimed he knew nothing about the stock, and said he lost money when it was sold.

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