Light­squared: Obama’s broad­band boon­dog­gle

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Michelle Malkin

If you thought the half-bil­lion-dol­lar, stim­u­lus­funded Solyn­dra so­lar com­pany bust was a tax­payer night­mare, just wait. If you thought the botched Fast and Fu­ri­ous bor­der gun­smug­gling sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tion was a national se­cu­rity night­mare, hold on. Right on the heels of those two blood­boil­ers comes yet an­other al­leged pay-for-play racket from the most eth­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion ever.

Wel­come to Light­Squared. It’s a toxic mix of ven­ture so­cial­ism (to bor­row GOP Sen. Jim DeMint’s apt phrase), cam­paign fi­nance in­flu­ence-ped­dling and per­ilous cor­ner-cut­ting all rolled into one.

The com­pany is build­ing “a state-of-the-art open wire­less broad­band net­work.” Com­pe­ti­tion in the in­dus­try is a good thing, of course. But mil­i­tary, govern­ment and civil­ian avi­a­tion ex­perts have long ob­jected to Light­Squared’s po­ten­tial to in­ter­fere with the Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem (GPS) satel­lite net­work. As the govern­ment’s own Po­si­tion­ing, Nav­i­ga­tion and Tim­ing agency ex­plained:

“The GPS com­mu­nity is con­cerned be­cause test­ing has shown that Light­Squared’s ground-based trans­mis­sions over­power the rel­a­tively weak GPS sig­nal from space. Although Light­Squared will oper­ate in its own ra­dio band, that band is so close to the GPS sig­nals that most GPS de­vices pick up the stronger Light­Squared sig­nal and be­come over­loaded or jammed.”

Two high­rank­ing wit­nesses — Air Force Space Com­mand fourstar Gen. Wil­liam Shel­ton and National Co­or­di­na­tion Of­fice for Space-Based Po­si­tion­ing, Nav­i­ga­tion and Tim­ing Di­rec­tor An­thony Russo — have now blown the whis­tle on how the White House pres­sured them to al­ter their con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony and play down con­cerns about Light­Squared’s threat to mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, both of­fi­cials were urged to ex­press con­fi­dence in the com­pany and en­dorse its prom­ise to ad­dress any tech­ni­cal con­cerns “within 90 days.”

Gen. Shel­ton had noted ear­lier this year:

“Within three to five miles on the ground and within 12 miles in the air, GPS is jammed by (Light­Squared’s) tow­ers. . . . If we al­low that sys­tem to be fielded and it does in­deed jam GPS, think about the im­pact. We’re hope­ful we can find a so- lu­tion, but physics be­ing physics, we don’t see a so­lu­tion right now.”

De­spite in­dus­try-wide protests, the firm some­how re­ceived fast-track ap­proval for a spe­cial FCC waiver that grants Light­Squared the right to use wire­less spec­trum to build out a national 4G wire­less net­work on the cheap.

Ken Boehm, of the con­ser­va­tive watch­dog National Le­gal and Pol­icy Cen­ter (NLPC) in Washington, D.C., summed up the deal ear­lier this year: “Light­Squared will get the spec­trum for a song, while its com­peti­tors (e.g., AT&T and Ver­i­zon) have to spend bil­lions.”

The cur­rent “fix” Light­Squared pro­poses to ad­dress the in­ter­fer­ence prob­lems is a costly, con­cep­tual pipe dream that could re­quire mas­sive retrofitting of mil­lions of hand­held GPS de­vices.

GPS ex­pert Eric Gak­stat­ter scoffs: “I’ve been pretty open­minded about Light­Squared propos­ing a so­lu­tion, but this re­ally in­sults our in­tel­li­gence. (A)s we’ve seen pre­vi­ously with Light­Squared, it’s not about find­ing a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion for the GPS user com­mu­nity; it’s all about sell­ing an idea to the FCC. The prob­lem is that the FCC doesn’t have to live with Light­Squared’s half-baked ‘so­lu­tion’; we do.”

So, what’s greas­ing Light­Squared’s skids?

Hint: It used to be known as “Skyterra.”

In 2005, Obama put $50,000 into the spec­u­la­tive firm — rais­ing eye­brows even among his water-car­ri­ers at The New York Times.

The pa­per noted that Skyterra’s prin­ci­pal back­ers at the time of the in­vest­ment in­cluded four Obama “friends and donors who had raised more than $150,000 for his po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees.”

One of those pals who urged him to buy stock in Skyterra was Ge­orge Hay­wood, a ma­jor Skyterra in­vestor and cam­paign donor who chipped in nearly $50,000 to Obama’s cam­paigns and to his po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee along with his wife.

Coin­ci­den­tally, Obama bought his Skyterra stock the very same day the FCC “ruled in fa­vor of the com­pany’s ef­fort to cre­ate a na­tion­wide wire­less net­work by com­bin­ing satel­lites and land-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems.”

The Times re­ported that im­me­di­ately af­ter that morn­ing rul­ing, “Te­jas Se­cu­ri­ties, a re­gional bro­ker­age in Texas that han­dled in­vest­ment bank­ing for Skyterra, is­sued a re­search re­port spec­u­lat­ing that Skyterra stock could triple in value.”

Coin­ci­den­tally, Te­jas and its chair­man, John J. Gor­man, were also ma­jor back­ers of Obama — fly­ing him in a pri­vate plane for po­lit­i­cal ral­lies and pitch­ing in more than $150,000 for his cam­paign cof­fers since 2004.

Obama sold his stock at a loss in Novem­ber 2005, but his po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with the com­pany was ce­mented.

In 2009, shady bil­lion­aire hedge-fund man­ager Philip Fal­cone — whose firm Har­bin­ger Cap­i­tal Part­ners is re­port­edly un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion for mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tion abuses — ac­quired Skyterra.

Coin­ci­den­tally, Fal­cone, his wife and Light­Squared CEO San­jiv Ahuja have con­trib­uted nearly $100,000 be­tween them to the Demo­cratic Party dur­ing crit­i­cal White House meet­ing pe­ri­ods and ne­go­ti­a­tions over Light­Squared’s reg­u­la­tory fate.

Oh, and coin­ci­den­tally, there’s $6 bil­lion ear­marked for a “pub­lic safety broad­band cor­po­ra­tion” buried in the Obama jobs pro­posal just as Light­Squared pushes into that mar­ket, too.

It’s all just one strange quirk of tim­ing, Team Obama shrugs. Ex­cept, as we all should know by now: There are no co­in­ci­dences in Chicago on the Po­tomac.

Just an end­less avalanche of quids, quos and tax­payer woes.

Michelle Malkin is the author of “Cul­ture of Cor­rup­tion: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies”.

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