The high profile Washington battle over alleged crony capitalism and White House pressure on behalf of LightSquared communications network has been playing out quietly on the state level for weeks with Minnesota legislators and trade groups being asked to take sides.
LightSquared , a Virginia-based, privately owned corporation, has developed plans that would create a nation-wide 4G wireless broadband network. This proposed system would be integrated with satellite coverage that would be sold wholesale to internet service providers and other business partners.
The military and public safety groups have raised concerns the system could interfere with the Global Positioning System (GPS), a U.S. owned utility that provides worldwide navigation services to private entities as well as the military. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ordered further tests before deciding whether to approve the proposal.
While the project has become a lightning rod for controversy in recent days in Washington, lobbyists in Minnesota and several other states have been touting the system’s benefits, particularly to rural residents.
According to the LightSquared website "Its [4G] network will be combined with one of the largest commercial satellites ever launched, to provide coverage of the entire United States." This system is advantageous for cell phone users because it allows them to have service via land-based transmitters even when satellite coverage is not available.
The Lehman Group- a lobbying organization based in Golden Valley - has been retained by LightSquared in their efforts to build support in Minnesota for the network. In an email circulated to members of the Minnesota legislature Tom Lehman urges legislators to send letters to the FCC in support of the network.
Lehman, in his memo, details the purported benefits of this system to Minnesota’s rural communities, including lower prices and wider connectivity, while downplaying the controversies around its implementation. Several letters of support were submitted to the FCC by Minnesota legislators and other trade associates.
On Tuesday, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced that his committee launched an investigation of the Obama Administration's involvement in LightSquared. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold hearings to explore allegations that General William Shelton was pressured by the White House to revise his prepared testimony before a closed congressional hearing. Media reports said Shelton was pressured to change it "in a way that would favor a large company funded by Philip Falcone, a major Democratic donor."
In 2009 Philip Falcone, a native of Chisholm, MN, contributed $30,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as $4,800 to now-retired US Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut). He also contributed $10,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota in that same year.