Genachowski confirms FCC role in retrans is limited


Julius GenachowskiA number of television topics were raised during the House Communications Subcommittee FCC Oversight hearing. Incentive auctions were a big topic, but the highlight may have been the confirmation that the FCC has very little authority when it comes to retransmission consent negotiations.

Here are the topics that came up during the hearing:

Retransmission consent
Charlie Bass (R-NH) complained about blue screens brought about by TWC/Hearst retransmission dispute, and asked what the Commission is doing about it. Julius Genachowski (pictured) said that FCC authority is limited, and would like to work with the Committee on possibly changing that. Asked it there is a timeline, Genachowski could only repeat that FCC authority is limited.

Incentive spectrum auctions
Julius Genachowski told John Dingell (D-MI) that an NPRM on this is expected before year’s end. He also told Dingell that discussions on channel repacking and the international implications with Canada and Mexico have been discussed with those two nations. All commissioners pledged to make sure US licensees in border areas would be protected. Genachowski couldn’t answer whether the process could be completed in three years.

Numerous legislators noted that this is issue is one of the most important maters in front of the Commission at this time.

Political file
Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) brought up the online political file issue, and used a complex ad buy, with multiple run times, as an example. Genachowski said the simple rule of thumb is that if it goes in the paper file now, it goes online as of 8/2. He noted Time Warner Cable’s decision to post political ad information, but under questioning from Walden noted that this is not a requirement for cable operators; it only applies to broadcast television.

Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) applauded the FCC for its order to put broadcast television political files online.

Unlicensed devices
It was not that long ago when unlicensed white space devices were seen as a threat to broadcast television – particularly because the call for them came just ahead of the DTV transition. The devices became threatened in their own right by the incentive auction program and the matter is now a quaint issue from the past. Subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) asked about them, and wants to make sure there is room left for it. Genachowski said he was happy that legislation has allowed the FCC to reserve some spectrum for this category of user.

Other issues
There was no mention pro or con on the idea of easing the rules to allow more television duopolies.