Skip to main content

FCC Chairman Noncommittal on Possibility of MandatedSpectrum Reclamation

The toughest grilling of the Democratic FCC chairman at an
FCC oversight hearing Wednesday arguably came from the House's longest-serving
Democratic member.

At the Communications Subcommittee hearing on network
neutrality rules and a few other topics, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), known for
blunt questions and the expectation of one-word responses, pressed FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski on whether the FCC would mandate a broadcaster move off

Citing the National Broadband Plan's statement that the
ability to clear and re-auction spectrum would be an "appropriate
tool" if a voluntary process stalls. The FCC has proposed reclaiming 120
MHz of broadcast spectrum through channel repacking, sharing and voluntary givebacks,
with the incentive being compensating them out of the auctioning of that
reclaimed spectrum for advanced wireless. Congress must first provide the
authority to use some of those funds for the payments--which the White House

Dingell asked whether that language meant the commission
would forcefully take spectrum from broadcasters if too few participate in
voluntary auctions, "yes or no."

"We haven't addressed that question," Genachowski said.
"We've proposed a win-win-win incentive auctions that will free up
billions of dollars and bring market incentives into spectrum allocations,
helping give this country what it needs--a lot more spectrum for mobile

Dingell pressed on. "You are going to have a voluntary
spectrum auction," he said. "How is it going to be voluntary if there is
pressure placed on the holders of this spectrum by the commission?"

The chairman said it was because the auctions would rely on
market incentives, allowing the market to set a price for licensees to choose
between continuing what they were doing or take the offer. Dingell said it sounded
more like a bank holdup, with a gun pointed at the teller's head. "We know
that you're going to voluntarily give us this money and if you don't we
are going to shoot you."

"Only if the free market is a bank holdup,"
Genachowski said.

"I'll let you know I have some dark suspicions on this
matter," Dingell responded.

"Do you believe that a broadcaster who does not
participate in voluntary incentive auctions should be forced to relinquish its
current spectrum allocation, yes or no?" Dingell asked again, then cut off
the chairman as he began his answer with a doff of the cap to the importance of
broadcasting and made the point that Congress is still looking at providing
that authority. Dingell cut him off with a comment about "contemplating your
navel," and asked him and the other commissioners to respond in writing.