Genachowski: We Will Make 'Relevant' Auction Info Available

Gives no timetable to Rep. John Dingell, concerned about TV station repacking
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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday
that the FCC would make public all "actually helpful and relevant"
information "that it can" about the commission's framework and
technical parameters for TV station repacking.

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.

Other highlights:

  • 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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