FCC’s Baker has light-touch for regulation


New Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker (R) was preaching to the choir at the NAB Radio Show, telling broadcasters she doesn’t want to impose new regulatory and paperwork burdens, particularly in the current economy. We also learned that she’s a Country Radio listener.

“Localism is what broadcasters do best,” Baker said when NAB Joint Board Chairman Steve Newberry, President and CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corporation, asked the commissioner about the public service obligations of broadcasters. That brought the response that, particularly in the current economic downturn, Baker didn’t want to impose any more mandates and regulations on station licensees. In here view most broadcasters are doing a good job and the FCC can address the situation on a case-by-case basis where local markets are not being served.

As the former Acting Administrator of NTIA, overseeing the run-up to the digital transition for television, Baker clearly has considerable experience with communications policy. But she said it is different to serve on the FCC, because “you’re voting – you’re not just giving policy advice.”

So far, the members of the new FCC of three Democrats and two Republicans under Chairman Julius Genachowski (D) have spoken of collegiality and transparency – two things sorely missing under former Chairman Kevin Martin (R). So, Baker was asked to assess the general leanings of the new Commission. “Hopefully we’re less inclined to put restrictions on industries that need to grow and need capital to grow,” the commissioner said.

Baker pointed to the current broadband policy workshops as an example of how the FCC is likely to deal with other issues – reaching out for input from people outside the normal Beltway insiders who generally file comments in FCC proceedings. Baker herself recently conducted such a public hearing in her home state of Texas.

Newberry noted that broadcasters, both radio and TV, are keenly interested in broadband. “We want to be a part of that industry he said,” as he conducted a dialog with Baker at the NAB Radio Show FCC Breakfast on Friday morning.

Baker and all four of her colleagues recently told Congress that they are unanimous in supporting a change in law to eliminate the 3rd adjacent channel protection that full power broadcasters currently have against interference from Low Power FM stations. That obviously has broadcasters worried. Newberry noted the actual record of community service by broadcasters and complained of being maligned by LPFM proponents who had misrepresented that record.

Baker noted that diversity of ownership is important to her, but added, “continue your advocacy.” As for what will happen on the issue, she said “I don’t now who is winning.”

Returning to the issue of diversity of ownership, Baker noted a recommendation early last week from the FCC’s advisory committee on diversity that local banks be educated on the value of broadcast licenses and how to structure loans for properties that have little in hard assets, but most of their value based on the goodwill and ongoing business associated with a broadcast station so more women and minorities can obtain financing. “Broadcast licenses are a strange animal for many banks and lenders,” she noted.

What about her own tastes in radio listening, Newberry asked? “We’re Country music listeners in our house,” Baker replied.

RBR/TVBR observation: We hope the collegiality continues as the new members of the FCC get down to actual policy decisions. More importantly, we hope that the Commissioners all work to understand the issues facing each of the industries that they regulate. That, unfortunately, was the great failing of Chairman Reed Hundt, who was driven 100% by politics and refused to learn anything about any communications industry regulated by the FCC. We mention Hundt because Genachowski served as Chief Counsel to Hundt. If he learned from Hundt’s mistakes, that will be good for broadcasters and the nation. If not, we dread to think what may lie ahead.