House panel sets Friday hearing on probe of LightSquared deal

The House Energy and Commerce Committee wants to know whether the FCC followed its own rules

A subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives will hear testimony on Friday about whether the FCC followed its own rules when it gave LightSquared conditional approval for an LTE network early last year.

LightSquared wants to build a land-based 4G LTE network to complement its satellite-based mobile data system. In January 2011, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave the company the last major break it sought for the plan, but it demanded proof that the network wouldn't lead to interference with GPS receivers. Subsequent tests showed interference with some devices, and on Feb. 15 this year the FCC proposed steps that would kill LightSquared's plan.

Just two weeks later, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the relevant federal agencies for all of their communications about LightSquared. The panel questioned why regulators conditionally approved the network in the first place without learning more about the interference issue. In addition to the FCC, other agencies targeted in the probe include the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing.

Friday's hearing, entitled "The LightSquared Network: An Investigation of the FCC's Role," will take place before the committee's Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and a link to a webcast will be available at the Energy and Commerce site, according to a notice by the committee.

LightSquared is no stranger to politics. Republicans, who control the House, in the past have accused the Obama administration of giving LightSquared preferential treatment in return for political contributions by Philip Falcone, whose Harbinger Capital Partners investment firm owns most of LightSquared.

After the FCC's negative ruling in February, LightSquared declared bankruptcy. The company is still proposing ways to make its network possible, such as a swapping some of its spectrum for another band. Last Wednesday, LightSquared executives met with an official from the office of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to discuss its ongoing pursuit of the network.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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