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FCC Supplies FOIA Data Dump for LightSquared/GPS Interference Issue

Good Luck Finding What You Need Via the New Web Portal

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November 23, 2011

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[Updated November 25 2011] For those wondering what to do on Black Friday ...

In another holiday special, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced creation of a public web portal for documents related to the LightSquared/GPS interference issue that will , in the agency’s words, “provide ready access to publicly available documents and other responsive documents not otherwise exempt from release under the FOIA [ Freedom of Information Act].”

The hapless reader can search through numerous alphanumerically-marked zipped files strewn across the site and still not find a trace of the internal deliberations that could shed light on the decisions that allowed the LightSquared project to go forward.

The action came, the FCC says, "in response to numerous requests under the FOIA" for documents having to do with LightSquared, predecessor companies including Sky Terra, Mobile Satellite Ventures, Motient, and TerraStar, and LightSquared's primary backer Harbinger Capital, as well as "people related to these entities."

Members of the public may have a different opinion as to how accessible the data is on the remarkably clunky FCC website.  Documents cannot be viewed online in HTML format, only  downloaded and viewed as PDFs, the contents of which are often obscurely identified by name, category, or source.

The portal provides links to three document collections: the FCC’s International Bureau Filing System (IBFS) web page for posting of documents related to the LightSquared issue, a collection of sketchily identified documents presented in no apparent  order; a somewhat more user-friendly  and numerous selection of documents accessible through the FCC Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) for Proceeding Number 11-109; and a collection of what is referred to as Congressional Zipped Documents — more than 120 PDFs that are identified only alphanumerically. The latter category includes a hodge-podge of letters between members of Congress and the FCC, many on behalf of constituents, as well as FCC responses to the elected officials or their constituents.

The timing of the announcement for the web portal, recalls the first public notice of the FCC's initial modification order to allow terrestrial-only devices onto LightSquared's network. The FCC filed that notice on November 19, 2010, with comments due on December 2 and reply comments due on December 9, 2010 — a timeframe with the Thanksgiving in the middle of it that allowed only an abbreviated period for comments.

The welter of documents on the FOIA site do not appear to include any e-mails between White House officials, Harbinger Capital, LightSquared, and the FCC, which have been requested by members of Congress and various new media. Those may fall under the category of what the FCC calls documents otherwise "exempt from release under the FOIA." The agency says it is "still in the process of releasing documents responsive to the FOIA requests and will inform all FOIA requesters when we have concluded releasing documents."

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