Washington

Wheeler Faces Hold Threat

The road to FCC chair—and decisions on spectrum— may be blocked by one dissatisfied senator 8/12/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Military Maneuver

Many TV stations will have to move or share spectrum in the upcoming broadcast incentive auctions. But if the Department of Defense, the FCC and every member of the Senate Commerce Committee have their way, all broadcasters who use electronic newsgathering equipment will face that scenario as well.

That is after the DOD tentatively agreed to a “compromise” proposal to move off a piece of spectrum being eyed for commercial re-use, suggesting its new home would be in the Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum now used by broadcasters. Ever since the FCC announced it wanted the DOD to give up or share the 1755- 1780 swath of spectrum so the FCC could pair it up with commercial spectrum and auction it to wireless companies, broadcasters have been concerned about the suggestion DOD could move into the ENG spectrum band.

In recent meetings with FCC officials, NAB execs pointed out that a study by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees government spectrum, concluded sharing was not possible. If that’s the case and the DOD moved in, broadcasters would have to move once again, as they were forced to during the last DTV transition.

The NAB says it’s willing to work with DOD. But the trade group also told the FCC that BAS spectrum is essential, even citing coverage of the Boston bombings to make its point. —JE

jeggerton@nbmedia.com | @eggerton

Congress left town for its August recess, but not before one plainly
determined senator signaled he could throw a wrench into the wheels of Tom Wheeler’s smooth ride to nomination
as FCC chairman.

Why This Matters
A hold on choosing the FCC chairman-an act emblematic of Congress itself-pauses the FCC as it faces one of the biggest decisions on the future of broadcasting: the incentive auctions.

According to a source close to Senate
Commerce Committee member Ted Cruz
(R-Texas), a hold—it only takes one senator
to block a presidential appointment—is “not
off the table.” That came after Cruz was not
happy with Wheeler’s responses to a question
he wants answered about the FCC’s
ability to require enhanced disclosures of the
actual funders of political ads.

Wheeler says he will be
guided in his decision by the
Constitution, but that there are
sponsorship identification and
political disclosure responsibilities
Congress has already delegated
to the FCC dating back
to its predecessor, the Federal
Radio Commission, in 1927.

According to a copy obtained
by B&C, that was part of Wheeler’s answer
to Cruz, who said at Wheeler’s nomination
hearing last month, and again last week, that
how Wheeler interpreted the FCC’s ability
to impose political ad disclosure requirements
similar to those that failed to pass in
the DISCLOSE Act could affect the success
of his nomination. Cruz has made it clear he
does not want the FCC following the advice
of some Senate Democrats to do via regulatory
fiat what Congress could not agree to do
via legislation.

Looking for DISCLOSE Disclosure

In a marathon FCC oversight hearing in
March, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) spent his
allotted time on that issue alone. He asked
whether FCC commissioners
were willing to use their disclosure
authority to require
identifying not only PACs and
other groups paying for ads,
but the underlying funders
“hiding behind the Committee
for God, Mother and
Country.” Congress attempted
but failed to mandate such
sponsorship IDs in the DISCLOSE
Act that failed to pass this year. “You
have the statutory power,” Nelson said. “You
don’t have to do what we failed to do four
years ago, to pass the DISCLOSE Act.”

In a written answer to follow-up questions
from Cruz, Wheeler pointed to sections 315
and 317 of the FCC’s political ad rules and
said he would be guided by the Constitution
and legal precedent in determining “the
scope of those provisions.”

Section 315 requires that at the end of a
TV candidate’s spot, for at least four seconds
there must appear “a clearly identifiable photographic
or similar image of the candidate”
and “a clearly readable printed statement,
identifying the candidate and stating that the
candidate has approved the broadcast and
that the candidate’s authorized committee
paid for the broadcast.” It also gives the FCC
the authority “to prescribe appropriate rules
and regulations to carry out the provisions of
this section.” Section 317 says that any paid
radio broadcast must identify who paid for it.

Wheeler may have received some help
from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), chair of the
Senate Communications Subcommittee, who
said recently he didn’t think the FCC would
be getting into the political spots issue. That
could be a signal Wheeler does not have to
wade into this thorny matter quite yet.

Military Maneuver

Many TV stations will have to move or share spectrum in the upcoming broadcast incentive auctions. But if the Department of Defense, the FCC and every member of the Senate Commerce Committee have their way, all broadcasters who use electronic newsgathering equipment will face that scenario as well.

That is after the DOD tentatively agreed to a “compromise” proposal to move off a piece of spectrum being eyed for commercial re-use, suggesting its new home would be in the Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum now used by broadcasters. Ever since the FCC announced it wanted the DOD to give up or share the 1755- 1780 swath of spectrum so the FCC could pair it up with commercial spectrum and auction it to wireless companies, broadcasters have been concerned about the suggestion DOD could move into the ENG spectrum band.

In recent meetings with FCC officials, NAB execs pointed out that a study by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which oversees government spectrum, concluded sharing was not possible. If that’s the case and the DOD moved in, broadcasters would have to move once again, as they were forced to during the last DTV transition.

The NAB says it’s willing to work with DOD. But the trade group also told the FCC that BAS spectrum is essential, even citing coverage of the Boston bombings to make its point. —JE

September
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