Washington

Editorial: Rush Hour II

It was a busy week in Washington, with spectrum bills introduced from both sides of the aisle, the Senate Commerce Committee holding confirmation hearings on two FCC nominees, FCC reform hearings and more 12/05/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

It was another one of those weeks in Washington. A flurry
of activity that became a blizzard, with spectrum bills introduced
from both sides of the aisle, the Senate Commerce Committee
holding confirmation hearings on two FCC nominees,
the FCC publishing a treatise on why it does not think AT&T
and T-Mobile should be allowed to combine, FCC reform hearings,
a new online app ratings system and an important Federal
Trade Commission smackdown of Facebook over privacy issues.

There was actually more, but the point is made.

Before we weigh into several of these issues,
we want to first tip our editorial visor to this
week’s cover subject, Democratic FCC commissioner
Michael Copps. His appearance on the
cover may come as something of a surprise given
how often we have crossed swords with the commissioner
on this page over media ownership
regs and public interest obligations.

We still think he is wrong
about trying to block rule
revisions for an industry
facing competition from
other platforms not similarly
hamstrung. But Copps has
also spoken out for diverse
communities, including Native
Americans, for minorities
and others who need
and deserve a champion in
Washington.

And while we think that
businesses know better how
to program to their audience
and preserve a vibrant industry
than do government
regulators, we also respect
that there is another side
that deserved a hearing, one
that commissioner Copps
has offered to anyone within earshot.

And Republicans and Democrats alike will
vouch for the fact that when Copps took over as
acting FCC chairman after Kevin Martin exited, a
new wind of collegiality blew through the place.

In this age of killing the messenger and then
stomping on them and spitting on their grave
if they disagree politically, it may be hard to
fathom, but one can disagree with the policies
and positions of an adversary while still respecting
them if they are consistent in their message
and, particularly, if they are eloquent in their
arguments, as Copps has been. This page and
commissioner Copps share a keen interest in
broadcasting and an appreciation of its power
and value; we just disagree on the best way of
maintaining and advancing it.

On to last week’s spectrum bills, proposed by
Democrats and Republicans in the House. If they
can come up with a compromise that truly protects
incumbent broadcasters that want to remain
incumbent, while fairly compensating those who
volunteer spectrum, we support it. But absent
that, the need for an interoperable broadband
communications network should not be used to
push a bad bill out the Capitol door in advance
of the holidays.

Congress could light a fire under itself and get
Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel onto the commission
by the beginning of next year, when Copps
is exiting. Both are experienced and noncontroversial.
There is a potential hold on the nominations
by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) over an
unrelated issue, but we’re hoping he can work that
out with Senate Commerce Committee leadership.

FCC reform legislation scheduled to be marked
up in committee last week is essentially a Republican
shot across the bow at a Democratic FCC
chairman, and at regulation in general. It may
pass the House eventually, but almost certainly
won’t make its way through the Senate. Among
the good ideas in there is a periodic report to
Congress on how the FCC is doing; even if that
passed, the FCC is famous for not meeting report
deadlines (the agency has yet to release its 2007
video competition report, for example).

And finally, Facebook has agreed to better protect
the privacy of its online information, which
is a good thing. But that has not stopped calls
from Congress for privacy legislation, which
may be a good thing, or a problematic thing,
depending on how the legislation is written.
Clearly there are issues with privacy protection
and data sharing that we need to resolve as we
spend more of our lives online, but Washington
has a habit of shooting behind its target and doing
collateral damage in the process.

September
October