Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who had placed a hold on the nominations of Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel to fill two vacant Federal Communications Commission seats, said Friday that while he is not yet satisfied with the commission's handling of the LightSquared waiver, now that a process is in place for him to get the documents he wants from the agency, he is ready to let the nominees proceed to a floor vote.
"The documents I've seen so far raise more questions than I had before," Grassley said Friday in a statement. "However, since there is now a process in place to obtain all of the relevant documents from the FCC, I intend to lift my hold on the two FCC nominees."
Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel are two veteran Senate advisors with FCC experience and the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle and industry players. They were the consensus picks of Senate Republican and Democratic leaders for the two FCC seats vacated last year by commissioners Michael Copps and Meredith Attwell Baker.
Rosenworcel is considered by Washington insiders to be future FCC chairman material, while Pai is described as smart and ambitious.
They sailed through a confirmation hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee last December-Rosenworcel was among friends as a top adviser to committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.).
"I am glad that the unreasonable hold against two qualified and smart FCC nominees, Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai, has been lifted," said Rockefeller Friday in a statement. "They are each ready to do this tough job and I especially want to thank Leaders McConnell and Reid for working cooperatively to advance these nominations in the face of stubborn delay tactics. That type of bipartisan cooperation bodes well for the success of Rosenworcel and Pai and I am anxious for the full Senate to vote on their nominations in May."
But their nominations hit a snag when Grassley did not get documents he requested from the FCC. He has since gotten access to reams of material via a request from the chairman of the House Energ6 & Commerce Committee.
Grassley's signal that he was lifting the hold came on the year anniversary of his first request for info on how the FCC handled the waiver to LightSquared to launch a terrestrial wholesale wireless broadband network using satellite spectrum. The waiver was always conditioned on the service not interfering with GPS in the adjacent band, and the FCC is now rescinding the waiver after concluding, with the help of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, various government agencies and the GPS industry, that such interference was real and essentialy unavoidable.
Grassley was and is concerned the FCC might have initially rushed the waiver approval in its push for broadband competition, and said he is not done vetting the waiver process.
"So far, the documents I have seen begin to give some answers about why the FCC gave such fast preliminary approval to LightSquared," he said in a statement. "The documents show that rather than being an objective arbiter, the commission appeared to be enthusiastic about the LightSquared project and wanted to see it materialize. The prospect of a new broadband provider that could challenge current providers was appealing to the FCC, according to the documents. It's impossible to draw a complete picture of the FCC's considerations in green-lighting LightSquared because the documents available so far do not offer a comprehensive view."
But he is still looking for that complete picture. "[M]y inquiry is not over," he said. "I'm told there are 11,000 more pages of documents from the FCC on LightSquared that will be forthcoming to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I look forward to receiving access to those documents."
If confirmed, which appears highly likely, Rosenworcel will be taking the seat of former Democratic commissioner Copps, while Pai will replace Republican Meredith Attwell Baker, who left last spring to join Comcast.
Rosenworcel will be succeeding her old boss. She was a legal advisor on competition and Universal Service, and then senior legal advisor to Copps before exiting in March 2007 to join the Senate Commerce Committee as a top communications advisor to Rockefeller. Before advising Copps, she was an FCC staffer, with responsibilities including legal counsel to the bureau chief of the Common Carrier bureau. Rosenworcel is, therefore, well-versed in the broadband and Universal Service reform issues the FCC is currently focused on. Before joining the FCC in 1999, Rosenworcel-a 1997 graduate of New York University Law School-was with the law firm Drinker Biddle.
Beginning in 2007, Pai served as deputy general counsel, associate general counsel, and special advisor to the general counsel at the FCC. He joined the law firm Jenner & Block in April 2011. Austin Schlick, FCC general counsel, was not available for comment.
Before joining the FCC in 2007 under then-chairman Kevin Martin, Pai's résumé included deputy chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts (2003-2004) and senior counsel in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy. Between 2005 and 2007, Pai was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, including lead counsel on Supreme Court nominations. He was associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003.