FCC Will Not Release AOM Until It Receives Congressional Auction Authority

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FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has indicated that the commission will not release its Allotment Optimization Model (AOM)--how it will reconfigure broadcast spectrum after an incentive auction--until after it gets that auction authority from Congress, a signal that did not sit well with at least one congressman and a whole national association worth of broadcasters.

The chairman's timeline came in response to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who had pointed out that the FCC had not yet detailed its spectrum plans and asked Genachowski to rectify that in a June letter to the commission. Dingell has been a longtime supporter of broadcasters and a critic of a spectrum reallocation plan he fears could leave few if any broadcast stations in Detroit.

"At this point, the AOM remains very much a work in progress," said Genachowski in his letter to Dingell, "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."

But he suggested he would be willing to provide more info once Congress has passed legislation authorizing the FCC to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum.

"Should Congress grant the Commission the ability to conduct voluntary incentive auctions," said Genachowski, "I commit to you that we will put the then-current (and further refined) version of the AOM out for public comment before setting the rules for the auction. The result will be a full, fair and open process that will allow for a complete review of the methodology, data and assumptions the Commission will ultimately use to implement that authority."

That was not the answer Dingell was looking for. He called the unresponsive answer "deeply troubling," including the chairman's "insistence" that the commission get the authority before Congress receives the plan details. He said the chairman was "concealing" the nature of future agency actions and that he would have to oppose any legislation that did not explicitly protect broadcasters. He did not spell out those protections in the letter, but they would likely include replicating the interference protections and coverage areas of stations that elect not to give up their spectrum.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which has made those protections a centerpiece of its lobbying on the issue, took the opportunity to associate itself with Dingell's remarks and push for info.

"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," said NAB president Gordon Smith in a statement. Rep. Dingell's concern clearly arises from the fact that Detroit citizens could lose access to all of their local TV stations because of U.S. treaty obligations with Canada," he said. "If the FCC has evidence proving that NAB's analysis is incorrect, it should make it available, and quickly."

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