FCC Faces Busy FallSpectrum auction action and retrans reforms/tweaks are high on industry to-do list 9/12/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Last week, the FCC held a back-to-school digital communications
primer for parents and kids. It could as easily have held
a back-to-work primer for staffers who face a relentlessly busy
fall—or at least pressure from industry, public interest groups and others
to get readin’ and writin’ about some initiatives being watched closely
by broadcasters and cable operators.
The commission will have to do all that
work while under the scrutiny of the House
Energy & Commerce Committee, which last
week made FCC reform one of its fall priorities.
Here are the most pressing assignments:
Spectrum auctions: First on the FCC’s list,
at least as far as broadcasters are concerned, is
publishing a plan for how it will reconfigure
the broadcast band after it reclaims spectrum
and auctions it off for wireless broadband. A
well-placed commission source said there are
a variety of options and that it must wait to
see the language in pending legislation before
it can detail implementing that legislation.
Broadcasters have long been pressing the
commission for details, but there is a chickenand-
egg quality about the exercise. Broadcasters
can’t support spectrum auction legislation
without assurances it won’t result in spectrum
repacking and sharing that is less than voluntary
and creates interference. The FCC won’t
detail how it will configure that auction or
repacking until legislation passes, but with
the 10th anniversary of 9/11 having come and gone without passage of
a spectrum bill, there will be added pressure on Congress and the FCC.
Retransmission consent reforms: While broadcasters would be
happy with a light touch on a system they say is working, cable operators
are pushing the FCC to vote out its notice of proposed rulemaking,
preferably with tougher reforms than it initially signaled.
Members of the American Television Alliance, a coalition of cable and
satellite operators and others, has been pushing for action, citing a host of retrans
deals currently being renegotiated or expiring at the end of this month.
In a sharply worded email two weeks ago, Rocco Commisso, head of
cable operator and alliance member Mediacom, implored the FCC to get
off the stick—final comments on the FCC’s proposals came in at the end
of June—and further criticized the FCC for what Commisso said was its
“inexplicable inaction.” The commission is likely to get some questions
from Congress about the whereabouts of its decision if there are multiple
impasses before the FCC weighs in.
Media Ownership reform: The Third
Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal
of its July decision vacating the loosened
rules on procedural grounds and remanded
them back to the FCC for better justification
or a different approach. The different approach
broadcasters would prefer is getting
rid of the ban altogether, or at the very least,
a little help in the form of some regulatory
certainty that recognizes broadcasters are in
a fight for their lives against competing delivery
systems, including wireless broadband
being promoted by the FCC.
While last week’s decision may be appealed
to the Supreme Court, the Third
Circuit has cleared the way for the FCC to
take yet another crack at the rules through its
quadrennial rule review process, which was
awaiting that court decision for direction. An
FCC official confi rmed on background a fall
time frame for wrapping up the review.
The gang’s not all here…yet: Former FCC adviser Ajit Pai and
Senate Commerce counsel Jessica Rosenworcel are still the leading candidates
for the empty FCC seat vacated by Republican Meredith Attwell
Baker and the vacancy that will be created by the departure at year’s end
of Commissioner Michael Copps, according to various sources. As the
picks of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.
Va.) and Republican Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), the Pai and Rosenworcel
nominations are expected to be paired and submittted for Senate consideration
by the end of the year.