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.”