WASHINGTON: Congressman John Dingell unfriended Julius Genachowski this week over the FCC chairman’s refusal to pony up the commission’s spectrum-analysis plan for auctioning off broadcast airwaves. The Michigan Democrat asked Genachowski in June to share the commission’s Allotment Optimization Model to get an idea how many households would lose over-the-air TV reception when a chunk of broadcast channels are redesignated for broadband.
Genachowski needs Congressional authority to hold incentive auctions whereby broadcasters who relinquish spectrum receive a piece of the proceeds. Dingell asked for a response by June 27. He got one Aug. 3. Genachowski basically told the Congressman to go fish.
“As you know,” Genachowski wrote, “the AOM is a tool that commission staff is developing to assist the Commission in conducting voluntary incentive auctions, should Congress grant us the requisite authority. At this point, the AOM remains very much a work in progress, and I am deeply concerned that disclosure of pre-decisional information would potentially damage the commission's deliberative processes, as well as result in needless public confusion about the status of the commission's work on the voluntary incentive auction concept.”
And so Dingell said, “Your refusal to respond substantively to my questions is deeply troubling from a number of perspectives… your failure to provide me with a detailed response to my inquiry leaves me no choice but to rely upon analyses performed by private parties as Congress considers whether to grant your agency the authority you seek.”
An analysis from the National Association of Broadcasters led by former FCC veteran Bruce Franca said 210 stations would be knocked off the air. (See “NAB: Broadband Plan Would Take 210 Full-Power TV Stations Off the Air.”) An FCC spokesman said the NAB was engaging in “scare tactics.”
“Providing a substantive response to my June 17th letter would have given the commission an excellent opportunity to prove the NAB was incorrect,” Dingell wrote. “Your refusal to do so leaves me no alternative but to conclude that the NAB’s analysis is probably more correct than not.”
The Congressman was especially peeved about Genachowski’s “insistence” on being granted incentive-auction authority without handing over the AOM.
“You force me to conclude that you in fact are concealing from congress the true nature and consequences of future agency actions,” Dingell said. “With this in mind, I will oppose granting the commission any statutory authority to conduct such auctions that does not include explicit and fair protection for broadcasters.”
To which the NAB chief and former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith replied, “what he said.”
“It is deeply disappointing that a member of Congress as distinguished and long-serving as John Dingell would not receive an answer from the FCC to a question so vital to his constituency,” Smith wrote in support of the Congressman. “If the FCC has evidence proving that NAB’s analysis is incorrect, it should make it available, and quickly.”
Dingell further mused that the FCC under Genachowski seemed to be establishing a pattern with regard to information.
“I have read with great interest that several of my colleagues have had difficulty securing responses to their inquiries from the commission, something which I also experienced nearly a year ago with a letter I sent you concerning the reclassification of broadband Internet access services,” he wrote. “One wonders if perhaps members of Congress would have an easier time getting information from the commission by filing Freedom of Information Act requests.”
~ Deborah D. McAdams
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