110th Congress, Part II: DTV, DTV and more DTV


Four key Commerce Committee telecom policy wonks from both houses of Congress met with broadcasters at yesterday’s NAB State Leadership Conference and confirmed that this year’s broadcasting legislative docket will be brim-full with DTV oversight. The importance of that issue and its rapidly-approaching deadline, coupled with a shortened work year due to elections, will crowd most other issues off the schedule. Holland & Knight’s Diane Smith moderated the event.

All four — Jessica Rosenworcel (Senate-D), Christine Kurth (Senate-R), Amy Levine (House-D) and Neil Fried (House-R, who had to leave early) stressed the importance of broadcasters using their direct line of communication with viewers to make sure they are properly educated. Kurth said this was especially true for LPTV and translator operators, who need to make sure their viewers know if they need a converter box with analog passthrough. They should also work with local retailers to make sure the proper box models are in stock. Levine urged broadcasters to get their reps to use their Congressional mailers to highlight the transition. Fried said many legislators are already on it.

Here are quick takes on other issues, all of which will be more or less on the back burner.

* White space/unlicensed devices: Excellent news here: All four agreed that nothing should be allowed into the market space in the cracks between allocated television stations until solid field testing has proved they can operate safely. It’s nowhere near that now.

* Localism rulemaking: Democrat Rosenworcel said, "It’s localism that makes broadcasters special," and then, in what may inspire a sigh of relief, she added that there didn’t seem to be a groundswell of support for adding onerous new burdens. She did think that broadcasters have a duty to serve their local audience and that legislators, with the FCC, would be looking for ways to encourage better local service.

* Indecency: Rosenworcel said everything is in a holding pattern until the Supreme Court decides if it will hear the DOJ/FCC appeal concerning fleeting obscenity enforcement, including the Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) bill on the topic. Kurth commended the late Jack Valenti on the TV Boss campaign, which she said was an important educational companion to enforcement actions.

* LPFM: Levine said that as in the white space issue, members do not want to let the genie out of the bottle until they are sure interference will not become a problem. Movement this year to eliminate 3rd adjacency protection is unlikely, and it’s unlikely ever until there’s been more study.

* Media ownership: Fried noted that the courts have never been satisfied that the FCC has justified local caps properly, so when the next case goes before judges, maybe the caps will be thrown out in their entirety.
* Cross-ownership: Everybody in both committees is waiting, just like us, to see what Byron Dorgan (D-ND) decides to do — odds are he will try his Resolution of Disapproval strategy again.

* Retransmission consent. A topic in the 109th, not hot now but may resurface in the 111th.

* FCC oversight. Democrats in the House already have the ball rolling on this, including possibly changing the way the FCC operates. Rosenworcel said the Senate is watching and may try to find a bipartisan way to make the FCC more responsive to consumers.

* SHVERA: Nothing likely until the 111th, putting a damper on fast action on local-into-local service for all DMAs.

* Working with your member: Kurth encouraged all broadcasters to remain in touch with their rep year-round, not just when something comes up on the Hill. The relationship of broadcasters and constituents is always a matter of concern on the Hill.