Panic Attack

Rep. John Dingell reminds broadcasters of the effect of repacking on Michigan TV stations along the Canadian border

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) clearly knows how to make an entrance—and an exit. At a mobile DTV launch on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, Dingell appeared to drop something of a bombshell, claiming that the FCC had not answered his questions about the framework for spectrum incentive auctions and repacking the TV stations that remain in businesses because it would “panic” the industry. He then left without elaborating.

One attendee suggested Dingell’s comments should have been the headline out of the event.

But checking reveals that the congressman was actually referring to a letter exchange with the FCC a year ago; what he cited was FCC chairman Julius Genachowski’s refusal to respond “substantively” to his queries.

So, why bring it up again now? As broadcasters were celebrating the potential DTV future, Dingell was reminding them of one of his hot-button issues: the effect of repacking on Michigan TV stations along the Canadian border.

Dingell has interpreted the FCC’s relative silence on the allocation optimization model’s (AOM) impact on repacking as a tacit admission that the model, in his words, “may have shown that many overthe- air broadcasters, particularly in border areas, would go out of business because of a voluntary incentive auction.”

The FCC had no comment at presstime. But an answer may be that the commission is not using that model for the auctions. Genachowski told Dingell last year that the FCC would release that AOM before voting on the auction rules—a vote now targeted for midyear 2013. But an FCC representative last week told B&C that the commission has since concluded that this model wasn’t appropriate for the auctions and it was going another route— namely, to put out some different models and let broadcasters and others weigh in.

“The AOM was used for studying repacking in the context of the national broadband plan, but is not consistent with the requirements of the Spectrum Act,” said FCC spokesman Neil Grace. “We are in the process of assessing repacking methodologies, and at the appropriate time we will be seeking input on various methodologies from stakeholders in an open and transparent manner.”