Congress, FCC discuss auctions, political, ownership


FCC Commissioners / May 2012
And more! The FCC oversees a number of major communications categories, and as a general rule, the concerns of sitting senators in the Commerce Committee are focused on matters not pertaining to broadcasters. The major exception is the incentive auction program, and IDing the sponsors of political ads also flared up, and media ownership was also a topic.

Incentive auctions
John Thune (R-SD) asked Chairman Julius Genachowski if the incentive auction would really get done during 2014, especially since his term expires this summer.

Genachowski said the FCC has been working on implementing the incentive auction long before it was officially the law of the land. He didn’t mention the expiration of his term.

Other topics did come up, including media ownership, STELA, sports blackouts and political ad sponsor identification.

Robert McDowell added that it is an extremely difficult undertaking, and said that while he is a generally a proponent of shot clocks, people should not be surprised if something happens. Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai all agreed that deadlines were helpful and that the Commission seems to be on track.

Pai said that the rules must be simple enough to make sure that auction participants, both sellers and buyers, are willing to come to the table in order to maximize the benefits of the process.

Later in the proceedings, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) took a moment to pass along concerns expressed to him by the Nevada broadcast community. There are hundreds of TV translators and low power television stations, most of them serving the sparsely-populated portions of the state, which are concerned about their fate under the incentive auction program.

Political ad sponsorship identification
Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that thanks to the Supreme Court we have been “beset” with an enormous amount of political advertising put on the air anonymously. He said according to the court, disclosure is the better option over further restriction of speech. Tells the FCC it has the power to enforce disclosure.

Genachowski agrees that it is a powerful First Amendment tool in the space. Says last year it was very contentious, and FCC requires information goes online. Says it’s time to consider the effectiveness and look at next steps.

McDowell said transparency is good, McDowell said he is against disclosing rates; the next question is what is the correct forum, FCC or FEC; should it be a broadcaster responsibility only – lots of questions pertaining to this issue.

Clyburn said she would look forward to working with Nelson to identify things the FCC can do that it is not currently doing.

Rosenworcel said she agrees with Nelson, said sunlight is the best disinfectant and said FCC should look at the rules and do what it can.

Pai agreed that the FCC should do what it can. He said there were still questions about who exactly needs to be identified. He also said it wouldn’t hurt to update guidance to broadcasters on this topic.

Between commissioner testimony, Nelson continually indicated that they were not answering his question. He said that there is no complexity to it, and seemed surprised by the commissioners’ apparently belief that there is indeed plenty of complexity to the issue. Nelson concluded, saying that some ad purchasers hide behind an entity, said that’s what he is concerned about and that it hasn’t been addressed by what the FCC did with its prior action.

Media ownership
Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked about where things stand on the media ownership proceeding, and got responses but not a lot of actual information.

Genachowski noted that a ruling is coming, and said that clearly newspapers are under pressure.

McDowell added that we’re long overdue for changes in media ownership rules.
Pai said it was important to allow JSAs to remain in place, particularly in small markets where it is helping weaker stations remain in business.

Clyburn said that critical information needs must be taken into account, and said that a quarterly review was necessary to make sure all constituencies have access to relevant content.

Rosenworcel noted that 74% still get news from TV, with radio and newspaper high on the list after that. Traditional media still creates most of the news, despite the presence of the internet. She said there are a lot of issues that all of the commissioners are grappling with.

Maria Cantwell (D-WA) weighed in on the topic only to note that it is her understanding that the FCC was going to repeat the deregulation attempt of Genachowski’s predecessor Kevin Martin, and promised that if that happens, she will proceed to try to stop it once again with a Resolution of Disapproval.

Local markets and MVPDs in border markets
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) noted that depending where you are in Nebraska, off MVPD you get South Dakota or Colorado news, and can’t even get local weather. Rosenworcel explained that it has to do with Nielsen market definitions and pointed out that reauthorization of STELA will give Congress a chance to revisit the issue this year.

Sports blackouts
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked about the topic. Genachowski said it is a tremendous concern of consumers, and comes up during retransmission consent negotiations, and stated that the FCC’s authority in this area is very limited. Genachowski suggested further discussion on the matter involving the FCC and Congress.

At the end, Rockefeller said he could mention media violence, but added that he already knows what people would say. He closed saying he was particularly pleased with Nelson’s line of questioning on political ads and gaveled the meeting to a close.