01.18.14

Smackdown!

Posted in DISH, Financials, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Spectrum at 6:16 pm by timfarrar

It seems that contrary to Phil Falcone’s testimony on Thursday, its not true that “if you talk to anybody, they’ll tell you LightSquared will get the FCC license” at least if that “anybody” is FCC Chairman Wheeler (who of course did talk to LightSquared just before Christmas). It seems he wanted to send that message loud and clear with a Friday evening court filing, telling Judge Chapman that:

“The FCC is not in a position to confirm whether it will able to complete the work required to act on each of the conditions specified in the FCC Exit Condition before December 31, 2014. It is also impossible to predict what decisions the Commission may reach on these matters.”

The filing went on to explain that the first Exit Condition in the LightSquared bankruptcy plan (which requires approval for use of LightSquared’s 20MHz of uplink spectrum) “is not solely within the FCC’s control” because “the FCC coordinates certain spectrum-related matters with the NTIA, which in turn consults with all federal stakeholders through the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee.”

That’s particularly important in view of a Bloomberg article earlier this month which indicated that “The Transportation Department, whose concerns that the LightSquared network could affect airliner navigation helped kill the company’s original plan, is withholding assent from the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee.” So in effect, the FCC is saying that if the DoT/FAA veto is maintained (and remember they would have to walk back the prediction that LightSquared’s operations could cause 800 deaths), it will not approve LightSquared’s application.

In addition, the filing noted that with respect to the second Exit Condition (which requires LightSquared to have gained approval to use the 10MHz of downlink spectrum between 1670-80MHz) “the FCC will need to conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking process…[which] will include issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), seeking comments from the public and adopting a Report and Order to allocate, develop service rules for and assign the [1675-80MHz] spectrum. At this time, it is not possible to provide any assurances that the processes outlined herein will be completed by December 31, 2014.”

This intervention potentially throws the LightSquared bankruptcy into chaos, and could leave Judge Chapman in a near impossible position, because as the FCC emphasized “Under the Revised Second Amended Plan, if the Effective Date has not occurred on or before December 31, 2014, the Plan shall be null and void.” We’ve already had DISH withdraw its bid, and as I noted the other day, it looks very much like DISH has alternative deals in mind. Commitments were also due on the LightSquared exit financing on Friday, and the FCC’s intervention could make the status of that financing even more uncertain.

So the question now is whether there is any feasible plan for Judge Chapman to confirm at this point in time? If she decides there is not, perhaps she could order the company to resume the auction of assets, this time without any conditionality on FCC approval. Would that mean Ergen jumping back in with a personal bid at a lower price? After all he suggested on Monday that had been a possibility, backed by a loan against his stake in EchoStar. Would the other LP debtholders compete against him (and put up cash to buy him out) if they weren’t going to get paid off at par plus accrued interest as they expected a few days ago?

Worryingly for LightSquared’s own reorganization plan, if the FCC intervention, which few expected at this point in time, is regarded as a direct smackdown in response to Falcone’s comments in court, that again raises the question of how big a “Phil risk premium” needs to be attached to the regulatory process, if Falcone maintains a substantial ownership stake in the company (even if he is no longer involved on a day-to-day basis, which seems to be the intent of the Fortress-backed plan).

After all, Senator Grassley (who has been a vocal critic of how “the FCC nearly granted billions of dollars in taxpayer assets to someone accused by our nation’s financial regulator of having ‘victimized’ ‘clients and market participants alike’ and leading a ‘graduate school course in how to operate a hedge fund unlawfully’”) was only too happy to give a statement for Bloomberg’s recent story about the lack of progress in Washington, and I’m sure that he won’t remain silent about any future FCC approvals while Phil remains involved with LightSquared.

2 Comments »

  1. TMF Associates MSS blog » Kissing off Charlie… said,

    February 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    [...] FCC approval of LightSquared’s license modification application before emergence, because as I pointed out last month, the FCC’s intervention had made LightSquared’s previous contingent plan [...]

  2. TMF Associates MSS blog » Mutually assured destruction… said,

    May 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    [...] would presumably defend the FCC in the event of a lawsuit), including Alicia Simmons who signed the devastating Jan 17 filing in LightSquared’s bankruptcy case. The FCC personnel included Associate General Counsel Jennifer Tatel and the letter also identified [...]

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