Broadcast low on FCC oversight totem pole


Broadband and wireless issues where the top of mind items at the Communications Subcommittee meet-up with the five FCC Commissioners Thursday. However, Chairman Julius Genachowski reaffirmed his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine and Michael Copps still has quite a bit to say about broadcasting. And Mignon Clyburn wants to see more diversity among licensees.

The committee members were limited to brief two-minute opening statements, which consumed well over an hour. Very few mentioned anything even remotely related to broadcasting, although a handful expressed concerns about using the FCC’s localism proceeding as a back door for the stealthy return of the Fairness Doctrine. Broadband and telephone concerns far outweighed radio and television. We were interested in what former radio group owner Greg Walden (R-OR) had to say, but he was polite enough to simply yield his time to get to the testimony.

We will pause momentarily to point out that we heard nobody mentioned the DTV Transition – a silent and eloquent testimony to the excellent job the FCC and NTIA did in pulling it off. It is even more a testimony to the broadcast community and the NAB, which bore responsibility for much of the work and financing that made the transition possible.

Commissioner testimony summaries:

* Julius Genachowski (D): Priorities: Broadband, freeing up spectrum for mobile communication, 21st Century media landscape. Working hard on broadband. Working hard on wireless, which needs spectrum – asking whether there is anything the commission is doing or isn’t doing to spur innovation and investment. Strong commitment to public safety and interoperability. Working to make FCC a model in excellence in government. Looking to improve operations and processes. “I say again, I do not support reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.”

* Michael Copps (D): Thanks Committee for its help during his Acting Chair period during DTV transition. Says broadband is key undertaking, and is pleased with public outreach that is a big part of the proceeding. Still work to do on DTV. Private-public sector cooperation was excellent model which will help with broadband deployment.

Media environment: Now is the time to pay attention. Broadcast media provides news, public affairs, programming, children’s programming and more. “We have not been sufficiently attentive to this.” DTV makes this even more important, since they can now stream four or five programming streams. Broadcasting needs to play to its strength, which is local. Newsgathering, journalism, investigative reporting are in trouble. We need solutions.

* Robert McDowell (R): FCC has new energy and new blood. This is a perfect opportunity to rebuild the FCC. Broadband infrastructure is being built by private investment. Consumers have more choice than ever, and FCC should use avoid a top-down heavy-handed approach moving forward. Must defend freedom of speech. Must do away with case backlog. Pointed out that there are still 710K households without DTV, but on the plus side, that means 99.4% are up and running one way or another.

* Mignon Clyburn (D): Wants the FCC to refocus on serving the consumer, and stepping in on the consumers behalf when market forces are failing to provide services. When that happens, FCC must “craft reasonable and appropriate measures to get it back on track.” Wants to work on improving woeful diversity of ownership stats for both minorities and women.

* Meredith Baker (R): Key FCC activity now is focus on broadband. FCC will play an important role, but must create incentives for the private sector to step in and build infrastructure. It will also be important to free up spectrum.

RBR/TVBR observation: This FCC could have been assembled by Central Casting. Of the rank and file commissioners, the two Democrats are as Democratic as any donkey might wish for, and the two Republicans are as Republican as any elephant could ever desire. Then there’s the man Barack Obama chose as Chairman. He’s unmistakably a Democrat, but just as Obama often gets between the Progressives and Blue Dogs in his own party, Julius Genachowski figures to be the best bet for a swing vote as this FCC moves forward.