Sunshine notice eclipsed


Thursday’s final FCC open meeting for 2008 has been cancelled. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), both of whom are on track to assume the chair of their legislative body’s Commerce committees, have asked that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin focus the next FCC meeting on the DTV transition and save other matters for next year, and avoid any other controversy.

FCC Spokesman Robert Kenny said, “We received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman today and spoke with other offices.  In light of the letter, it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled.  The items will remain on circulation and the Commissioners can still vote on them."

On the agenda was a remedy for television stations whose old analog contour was lost in the translation to digital, a look at program carriage practices for cable and broadcast, and fines against MVPDs whose DTV educational efforts were not up to regulatory snuff. Four additional items concern matters in other areas of FCC responsibility. The meeting was booked for 12/18/08 at 10AM Eastern.

The digital television item would provide an opportunity for stations to use translators to maintain service in locations where it otherwise would be lost due to coverage discrepancies between a station’s analog and digital contour.

The programming plank would look at various issues, with particular emphasis on “program access rules and examination of programming tying arrangements.”

In the DTV education plank, the FCC “…would consider an omnibus NAL against various companies for apparent violations of the Commission’s DTV consumer education requirements,” with fines expected to run well into the millions of dollars.

The catalysts for the session scrubbing, Rockefeller and Waxman, had written, “The most important challenge for the Commission over the next nine weeks is to ensure the smoothest possible transition to digital television (DTV),” they wrote. “At a time when serious questions are being raised about transition readiness, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider unrelated items, especially complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing. We strongly urge you to concentrate the Commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the law and efforts to smooth the transition to digital television.”

RBR/TVBR observation: We’ve seen delayed meetings before under Chairman Martin, but this time it looks like the delay will be until next year. Given that the January open meeting is usually used so bureau chiefs and other section heads can reflect on all the hard work and accomplishments of the year past and discuss plans for the year ahead, there likely won’t be another serious open meeting until February. Some of the DTV matters cannot wait, obviously, so we’ll be watching for them to flow piecemeal out of the Commission.