Dingell: Spectrum, Unbundling Are 'Ancillary' To Broadband Plan Goals

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) wants some more specific answers from the FCC commissioners on a handful of key issues, led by sepctrum reallocation and broadband unbundling.

In essentially identical letters to all five commissioners dated April 6, copies of which were obtained by Multichannel News, the chairman emeritus of the House Energy & Commerce Committee followed up, as promised, on his questioning during an oversight hearing on the FCC's national broadband plan earlier this month.

Dingell was primarily looking for assurances that the commission was not looking to force broadcasters off the spectrum or mandate that cable and telco operators unbundle their nets.

Both are lines of questioning he pursued during the hearing, but is looking for clearer answers than he received. He expressed his concern about the spectrum proposal in a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last November.

In the preamble to the letter, he said that the broadband plan was about promoting adoption and expanding support for it in high-cost areas. Spectrum allocation and various competition related issues, like unbundling, he said, were "ancillary" to Congress' intent.

Dingell asks a series of nine questions, with answers he wants by April 16.

They are, in summary: 1) Whether the FCC's plan to get 120 MHz of spectrum from broadcasters will remain voluntary if the commission does not get enough takers; 2) Whether the FCC thinks it has the authority to to require network owners to "unbundle" access to their networks (to competing ISPs), an answer that may have been contemplated by the court decision on BitTorrent this week; 3) Would unbundling have a chilling effect on investment in infractructure?; 4) Does the commission plan to require unbundling?; 5) Whether (and he wants an "unequivocal yes or no") getting new spectrum from the wireless communications services band (WCS) would interfere with satellite radio; 6) Would the FCC provide advance notice of the rules for WCS use?; 7) Whether the FCC will reallocate noncommercial spectrum if no station takes it up on a proposal to fund a public media trust fund with proceeds from spectrum reclaimed from some noncoms; 8) Will the FCC have to propose amendments to the Public Broadcasting Act to accommodate growing digital distribution; and 9) How many recommendations (an exact figure) are there in the national broadcband plan and which of those (a "complete list") require congressional authority or action, and why they need it?

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.