What were they thinking?
That was the sentiment expressed by the head of a key House subcommittee Wednesday when asked about how the Federal Communications Commission handled LightSquared's quest to build a nationwide wireless network.
"I am trying to figure out how the cart got so far ahead of the horse," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said during a news conference to discuss his 2012 agenda. Walden said he plans to hold a hearing on the controversy this year but didn't give a specific date.
Tests indicate that LightSquared's proposals would interfere with global positioning systems. LightSquared says it has solved the interference problems, but representatives of nine federal agencies concluded on Jan. 13 that no practical measures can allow LightSquared to overcome interference with GPS.
The finding, a significant blow to LightSquared's case, prompted a furious response from the beleaguered wireless startup, which accused the government panel of "a systematic disregard for fairness and transparency."
Walden said he has met with representatives from both GPS companies and LightSquared in hopes of figuring out if there is an "engineering answer here." He said he got two different answers.
The FCC says it will not give LightSquared final approval until tests show that the network can be safely built, but the agency has come under fire for its handling of the process.
Walden questioned how the FCC could allow Light Squared to obtain spectrum that it is now being told will interfere with GPS systems. "How did it get to this point?" asked Walden, a former radio broadcaster who has had to bid for spectrum licenses.
The FCC says it did nothing unusual in working with LightSquared, and has repeatedly said it will not give the company approval until all problems have been resolved.