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WASHINGTON WATCH

5/12/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

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Recent FCC Fines Confuse

Two challenges point up inconsistencies in the war on
indecency

If the recent proposed fines were supposed to give broadcasters
more-consistent guidance on the FCC's definition of indecency, they failed
miserably. Not surprisingly, that's the early response from those who were
fined.

In opposition to the proposed fine on Without
a Trace
, CBS, filing on behalf of its stations, pointed out that,
while its episode dealing with “sex and substance abuse among unsupervised
teens” was fined for indecency, an Oprah
Winfrey
show episode that included, by the FCC's own admission
“highly graphic and explicit” discussion of teen sexual practices, was
found blameless. Maintaining that the two were “indistinguishable” for
purposes of indecency analysis, CBS argued that suggesting that the treatment
of teenage sexuality was “not necessary to the storyline” in
Without a Trace but was necessary to the
discussion on Oprah, the commission's
ruling discriminates among speakers, programs and subject matter.

In its challenge to the fine on PBS blues documentary
Godfathers and Sons, the San Mateo County
Community College District, licensee of KCSM, took the same tack, pointing out
that, whereas the cussing in entertainment program Saving Private Ryan was found by the FCC in an earlier
decision not to be profane, the agency nonetheless proposed fining “an
acclaimed documentary that contains language no different for purposes of the
indecency rule from that used in Saving Private
Ryan
.”

Both challenges suggest that the FCC's inconsistency calls into
question its entire authority to regulate indecency at all—not what the
commission had in mind when it released the actions March 15.

Discrimination Isn't All Bad

Backers of strong “network-neutrality” language in telecom
legislation lurching through Congress decry discrimination against content and
its providers in the broadband-service provision. They argue that giving
networks that power will create Internet disparities and an information toll
road on which behemoth companies will steamroll entrepreneurs trying to hatch
the next Google.

But discrimination isn't necessarily bad, says Verizon Executive VP
Tom Tauke. Broadband networks, he says, “discriminate” in providing tiered
services. He equates that with offering new and innovative broadband
services.

Plenty of businesses pay for more bandwidth and more-secure services,
he says, noting that hospitals use virtual private networks instead of relying
on the public Internet.

September
October