2012, coming to an FCC near you


FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell spoke before the Federal Communications Bar Association and the Practicing Law Institute. FCBA is the organization to which many of the attorneys who represent broadcast clients belong. McDowell looked back at 2011, but more importantly, he looked ahead at what’s in store for 2012.

He said that the still-in-the-works review of media ownership policy should be of major interest, judging by the excitement and controversy the issue has consistently aroused in recent years. Count the Republican in the camp that think that another round of dereg, including some of the measures former FCC Chairman Michael Powell tried to push through all the way back in 2003, is due.

“It is my hope,” said McDowell, “that the Commission can modernize its rules to reflect the economic realities of the marketplace. Maintaining decades-old industrial policy in this age of competition, mobility and new media is not in the public interest and is not what Congress envisioned when it crafted Section 202(h).”

McDowell also expects indecency to be a major topic next year, with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments on fleeting profanity and nudity cases early on.

“The indecency issue is sure to generate headlines in 2012,” said McDowell. “Come to think of it, maybe the FCC will make it back into the tabloids after all. The Supreme Court is certain to hand down a landmark decision affecting the balance between the First Amendment rights of broadcasters and the Commission’s statutory obligation to protect children from indecent content. Regardless of the Court’s decision, the Commission will have a lot of work to do as about 1.5 million complaints regarding more than 9,000 broadcasts wait to be processed.  I’ll be interested to see whether the Court addresses the doctrine of spectrum scarcity in its opinion. At some point, it will have to.”

As to the possibility of repurposing television spectrum for broadband, McDowell said he had no idea if Congress was going to authorize such a plan or not, but if it does, “…suddenly the Commission could be working furiously on auction and service rules, band plans and such throughout the year.”

McDowell addressed other issues not directly related to broadcasting, and spent a great deal of time discussing the issue of internet regulation on a global basis, a concept he believes may move forward in 2012.