Genachowski: We Will Make 'Relevant' Auction Info Available
Gives no timetable to Rep. John Dingell, concerned about TV station repacking
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/10/2012 2:43:35 PM
That came in response to questions from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee. Following up on the question, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a former broadcaster, urged the FCC to be as transparent as possible and said the committee was keenly interested in the allotment optimization model (AOM) the commission would use to repack TV stations following its reclamation of spectrum for wireless broadband, information he called critical.
The issue of spectrum auctions got a lot of attention at the hearing, particularly from Dingell, who warned that if the FCC did not make that AOM information available, as well as the variables the FCC plugged into the model, it could open itself up to lawsuits it would be hard to defend against.
Dingell complained that the commission had not provided the data he requested about the model, but Genachowski said he and broadcasters would get that "actually relevant and helpful" information. Dingell seemed less than assuaged by the inclusion of those qualifiers.
The chairman said he could not estimate when the auction -- actually two auctions -- process would be completed.
Genachowski also gave no timetable for the FCC's completion of its rulemaking proposal on changes to the retransmission consent system, saying if Congress wanted to weigh in it should not necessarily wait for an FCC decision.
Although all five commissioners were in attendance, Genachowski got most of the questions.
There was a lot of attention on regulatory reform. The Chairman got praise from both Republicans and Democrats for his efforts so far, but Walden called them the "minimum" and suggested much more needs to be done and others suggested the FCC had not been sufficiently aggressive in taking a weed whacker to the regulatory underbrush.
Genachowski has pointed out, and did again Tuesday, that the FCC has already pruned some 200 regs, but he got some major pushback from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Kinzinger asked how many of the regs the chairman was talking about were substantive rules the FCC had been enforcing and how many had already been struck down by the courts or were simply cross references to other regulations. Genachowski said he did not know, and did not offer any estimates when pressed.
McDowell said he applauded the chairman's effort, but it more the sound of one hand clapping, with the other pointing out that those 200 rules included cross-references, ones already done in by the courts, or ones the FCC has not been enforcing, like the broadcast flag and the Fairness Doctrine. Though, to be fair, McDowell himself had actively promoted the importance of the FCC scrapping the doctrine.
McDowell said the FCC should consider changing its approach to rule reviews by sunsetting regs unless it can be affirmatively shown they are still in the public interest.
Another issue that drew attention from the legislators was the FCC's proposed changes to the special access market in which incumbent telecom providers have to make their business service networks available to competitors. Under the Clinton administration, the price of those services was deregulated in areas where competition could be demonstrated, similar to the FCC's deregulation of basic cable rates in markets where there was demonstrable competition.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed to freeze petitions for special access deregulation while the commission decides how to revamp the regs for the digital age, saying the current deregulatory regime is malfunctioning. At the hearing,
Republican legislators expressed their concern with that freeze on deregulatory petitions, while Democrats tended to agree that the freeze was OK and the Clinton-era deregulation was ripe for review.
The FCC did not vote the order freezing the petitions, though Genachowski said he expected to do so very soon. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the full Energy & Commerce Committee signaled he thought that would be inappropriate, while ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said reform was long overdue.
Both sides agreed that the FCC needs to collect more data on the special access market. FCC Officials have said that the commission needs that data -- industry players have been reluctant to provide it -- before it can weigh in, so Republicans asked Genachowski why he had proposed the freeze absent that data. He said the FCC had sufficient data to conclude the special access market needed fixing, just not enough to determine the best way to fix it.
Broadcasters will be happy to hear that federal spectrum got a lot of airtime at the hearing. A number of legislators suggested there was more the government could do to free up spectrum in government hands.
Rep. Cliff Stearns pointed out that a majority 60% of the best spectrum for wireless was in government hands and the FCC needs to look seriously at that spectrum. Options include reclaiming it and flexible sharing. Genachowski said one does not exclude the other. Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested that the President could help speed the process by issuing executive orders given the large bureaucracies in involved and the tendency of users, private and government, to want to hold on to their holdings.
- Genachowksi said he had no intention of closing the Title II docket.
- Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says the FCC can make its data more useful to consumers and its complaint process more responsive to them.
- Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) got Genachowski to promise to try to get the FCC to act on an appeal of an FCC decision relating to the status of a TV station that has been pending since 2000.
- On issue when the FCC is going to conduct a mandatory data collection of special assess market info, McDowell said he hoped it would be before his grey hair turned to white. The balding Rep. Walden added: "or mine falls out."
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