Washington Watch


Stevens' FCC Pick First in Line

Top Techies Push DTV Deadline

Norfolk Gets Rarity: New TV Station

Stevens' FCC Pick First in Line

Christine Kurth is now the front-runner for Michael Powell's vacant FCC seat.

Kurth is deputy staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee, with a specialty in telecommunications issues.

Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is pushing the White House to nominate her now that his first choice, lobbyist Earl Comstock, took his name out of the hat. Her chances are boosted by the fact that Stevens' committee approves FCC nominations.

Another contender, White House favorite and former Texas utility regulator Rebecca Klein, is now the primary candidate to be chairman of the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission, and the betting is she'll take that job.

Kurth, 34, is from Anchorage and began her Capitol Hill career as a Stevens intern, ultimately serving as deputy general counsel for the Appropriations Committee when Stevens was chairman.

Others in the race for Powell's seat and the open seat held now by Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, are Howard Waltzman, lead counsel for the House Commerce Committee, and Michael Gallagher, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Top Techies Push DTV Deadline

To convince wary lawmakers that a quick switch to all-digital TV is necessary, many of the biggest U.S. technology companies have formally teamed up to push a “hard” deadline for shutting off old analog signals.

With House legislation establishing a deadline—perhaps as soon as Dec. 31, 2006—expected to be introduced in the next couple of weeks, Qualcomm, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Dell, T-Mobile and others have formed the High Tech DTV Coalition.

The companies all plan to develop products that will operate on channels 52-69, the band of channels the government plans to reclaim and auction to new users.

The coalition will be led by Executive Director Janice Obuchowski, who ran the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during the first Bush administration.

National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts says broadcasters also support a DTV deadline but warns that the date shouldn't be driven by the “financial interests of a handful of technology companies.”

Norfolk Gets Rarity: New TV Station

The first major-market TV station to be built from scratch in more than a decade will soon get a green light from the feds.

As early as this week, the FCC is expected to let local developer Robert O. Copeland build a station to operate on ch. 21 in Virginia Beach, Va. (in the Norfolk, Va., market, ranked 41st in the U.S.).

Copeland won the right to build the station after bidding $5.17 million in 2001. The payment is the highest ever for a TV-station construction permit, the license broadcasters need to build a studio and tower. Few major markets have room for any new TV stations, but broadcast engineers figured more than a decade ago that one could fit into the Virginia Tidewater area.

Because of competing applications for the channel, the FCC decided to auction it.

Original winning bidder Winstar Broadcasting went bankrupt. Second-highest bidder Copeland was granted the permit but caused a three-year delay by fighting to cut his payment to $1 million on the grounds that Winstar and other bidders weren't eligible for the auction, thus inflating his final bid.

The FCC rejected that argument, and Copeland forked over the $5 million. By then, a station on the other side of Chesapeake Bay, WBOC Salisbury, Md., petitioned to cut Copeland's signal in half.

WBOC management feared that the station would suffer interference from the new outlet. In 2001, WBOC's picture was partially knocked out by WHRO Hampton Roads, Va., by “ducting,” a phenomenon that magnifies TV signals over water.

Copeland attorney Lauren Colby says there's no evidence that ducting will occur this time. If the FCC makes ch. 21 cut its power, he warns, “I'll ask for my client's money back.”