Senate OKs FCC Nominees, But …


Washington —The Senate Commerce Committee
last week approved the nominations of
Republican Ajit Pai and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel
to the Federal Communications Commission.
The pair passed without incident, but at
press time, it was not clear how soon they could
get a Senate vote and be installed.

That’s because Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)
last week signaled that he was still planning to
hold up the nominations until the FCC turns over
internal documents about how it awarded a waiver
to LightSquared to operate a national wholesale
wireless-broadband communications network.

Various FCC observers have predicted that
Grassley would be assuaged and the nominees
would be installed by Christmas.

“I’m confident we can address any concerns about the
nominees quickly so we can clear the way for full Senate
confirmation,” said Senate Commerce Committee chairman
Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.). Rosenworcel is Rockefeller’s
top communications adviser as chairman.

A source with the Commerce Committee said the chairman
would be looking to schedule a confirmation hearing
for his tip aide as soon as possible.

But Grassley was sounding anything but ready to relent
short of some action out from the FCC, whose spokesman
declined comment on whether any more information
would be forthcoming. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski
has already publicized some LightSquared documents
on the agency’s website that had been sought by others in
Freedom of Information Act requests, but has also said he
would not provide documents in direct response to Grassley’s
request, because the senator is not the chairman of
one of the relevant oversight committees.

According to a committee source, Grassley might be
willing to let the nominations proceed if the FCC showed
a good-faith effort by releasing some of the documents he
has asked for and promising to provide others at a later date.

LightSquared’s plans for a nationwide Long-Term Evolution
and broadband network have come under fire from
lawmakers and others because its network has been shown
to interfere with global positioning satellite service, and
Grassley shares the GPS industry’s interference concerns.

Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has repeatedly sought more information from
the FCC on its communications with the White House and
LightSquared’s backers, especially in the wake of a conditional
waiver granted by the agency under Genachowski
to begin testing the service.

“More than seven months ago, I started asking the FCC
for information that would shed light on the agency’s apparent
rush to approve the LightSquared project,” Grassley
said in a statement to reporters following the vote. “The
agency has provided none of the information and found
excuses not to provide the information.

“Even the private companies involved, LightSquared
and Harbinger Capital, have promised to be more forthcoming
than the FCC as a public agency funded by the
taxpayers,” Grassley continued. “LightSquared and Harbinger
Capital promised to provide me with requested
documents on their dealings with the FCC this week. As
a last resort to try to exhort more transparency and accountability
from the FCC, I’ll place a hold on consideration
of the agency nominees on the Senate floor. Th is
agency controls a big part of the economy. It conducts
the public’s business. And the public’s business ought to
be public.”

If the nominees aren’t confirmed by Jan. 1 — when Michael
Copps, a Democratic commissioner and Rosenworcel’s
former boss, must leave — the FCC will be down to three
commissioners. That’s still a quorum, though, technically,
Commissioner Robert McDowell would have more leverage
since, if he actually left the room during public meetings, no
vote could be taken due to absence of a quorum.

The committee also approved the nominations of Federal
Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz and new
FTC commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen.

Rosenworcel is currently senior counsel for the U.S. Senate
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and
the Internet.

Pai, also a former Senate staffer, has since last spring
been a partner at Jenner & Block LLP. Before that he was
in the Office of the General Counsel at the Federal Communications
Commission, where he was deputy general
counsel, associate general counsel and special adviser to
the general counsel.