Rep. Dingell 'deeply disturbed' by FCC's response to query on spectrum sales

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) chastised Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday for not responding to a series of questions he submitted about the agency's plan to auction spectrum.

“I am deeply disturbed that an agency created by Congress so often and so willfully fails in its duty to respond in a substantive manner to Congressional requests for information,” Dingell said in a statement. “With respect to voluntary incentive auctions, it is imperative that Members of Congress know what effect they will have on the broadcast industry and their constituents’ ability to receive free, over-the-air local programming.” 

"By keeping this information from Congress," Dingell wrote, "you force me to conclude that you in fact are concealing from Congress the true nature and consequences of future agency actions."

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Dingell sent a letter to Genachowski on June 17 asking about the FCC's analysis of the potential impact of voluntary incentive auctions of spectrum.

The FCC has asked Congress for the authority to reclaim up to 120MHz of spectrum that currently belong to television broadcasters. The goal is to free up space on the airwaves for mobile broadband. 

The FCC would then put the reclaimed spectrum up for auction. The auction revenue would go in part to reimburse the stations that chose to give up their spectrum and to help pay off the nation’s debt.

But television broadcasters worry the auctions will not be entirely voluntary and that local stations could be forced off the air.

To analyze how many stations would likely surrender their spectrum, the FCC developed an Allotment Optimization Model (AOM). In his letter, Dingell asked Genachowski to provide Congress with its AOM calculations by June 27.

On Aug. 3, Genachowski responded to Dingell, but declined to share the FCC's calculations.

"The AOM remains very much a work in progress, and I am deeply concerned that disclosure of predecisional 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," Genachowski wrote.

Dingell wrote back to Genachowski on Tuesday and said he would oppose giving the FCC the authority to conduct spectrum auctions without strong protections for broadcasters.

The FCC's plan might be especially relevant to Dingell's Detroit-area district. According to calculations from the National Association of Broadcasters, the plan would result in Detroit losing all of its over-the-air television stations due to treaty obligations with Canada.

The National Association of Broadcasters echoed Dingell's criticism of the FCC.

"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," NAB President Gordon Smith said in a statement.

The FCC says it is committed to both preserving over-the-air broadcasting and addressing the shortage of spectrum for mobile broadband.