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FCC Commissioners Confirmed, Ending 4-Month Standoff

Mon, 05/07/2012 - 2:39pm
Maisie Ramsay

The Senate has voted to confirm two new FCC commissioners, marking the official end to Chuck Grassley's four-month standoff with the agency over its handling of LightSquared. 

The Republican senator from Iowa agreed in late April to lift his block on nominees Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai, a hold that has been in place since Decemberand left the FCC operating with just three acting commissioners.

Rosenworcel and Pai received broad bipartisan support when they were first nominated by President Obama last year. That support continued Monday when the Senate voted unanimously to approve the new commissioners.

"They bring deep knowledge of our sector, and proven track records of accomplishment," FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski said in a statement. 

Grassley blocked the nominees to pressure the FCC into disclosing inside documents detailing why LightSquared was granted a waiver for its LTE network over the concerns of the GPS industry. The agency held off on handing over files for months, arguing it was under no obligation to divulge the files to Grassley.  

The senator eventually got his hands on additional documents after House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee asked the agency to divulge additional information about LightSquared. The FCC, overseen in part by the committee, then provided thousands of documents to House lawmakers, who in turn provided copies to Grassley and his staffers. 

The FCC moved in February to bar LightSquared from launching its service because of problems with GPS interference. The company continues to insist it will find a way to move forward but has yet to provide any viable alternatives.

Rosenworcel and Pai will replace former commissioners Michael Cops, whose retirement became effective at the beginning of the year, and Meredith Baker, who left her post last summer to take a job at Comcast. Cops, an opponent to AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA, recently joined the board of directors for Public Knowledge, also an opponent to the merger. 

West Virginia Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller said in a statement he was "elated" that the two commissioners were confirmed and that the FCC "will resume full operations." 

The FCC has been working to clear a significant backlog. The agency was working to clear nearly 5,000 petitions, 4,000 license applications and more than a million consumer complaints at the end of last year, according to Oregon Republican Greg Walden, chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Walden has pushed for reforms at the FCC. 

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