Dodging recusals and restrictions on lobbying, a majority of the FCC and the acting head of the NTIA addressed a Cable Show lunch crowd Friday primarily in generalities, but entertaining ones. (Click here for complete coverage of the 2009 Cable Show.)
FCC Commissioners Robert McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein, joined by acting NTIA head Anna Gomez, were mostly restricted from talking about broadband stimulus-related issues. That is because Gomez has recused herself from policy discussions because she used to be a phone company executive and they are among the companies the government expects to apply for the grants.
And since cable operators will also be applying, all three were prevented from talking about the stimulus money to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association
What was left over was the now familiar praise for the industry, particularly its DTV effort, with perhaps a nugget or two of news.
Nugget 1: McDowell said that next week’s notice of inquiry launching the FCC’s grand broadband plan initiative would include asking whether the Universal Service Fund should be expanded to include broadband. But that will simply be one of “a ton” of questions.
Nugget 2: Gomez said that NTIA said the coupons for the last of the applications on its much-talked-about waiting list should have been sent out by the end of this week.
McDowell and Adelstein joked–actually only half-joked–about the generally more collegial climate at the FCC under the new acting chairman, Michael Copps, and its contrast with the previous climate. Former chairman Kevin Martin, who NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow once described as having a vendetta against cable, was not mentioned directly, but the message was clear.
The room did include a number of former commissioners, including Rachelle Chong and Kathleen Abernathy, as well as former chairman Michael Powell, who was liberally dispensing bear hugs, including one for McSlarrow.
Adelstein gave Powell a shout-out, saying the commission had been run much better under his tenure.
By contrast, the ghost of Martin appeared in references from the commissioners.
Adelstein expressed his frustration with bureau staffers who had once been told not to communicate with commissioners staffs, to the extent of not even answering direct questions.
McDowell said that the change was “almost immediate. People stopped looking at their shoes when you were in the elevator.”
And the hits just kept on coming: “One of the very first things that Chairman Copps did, which I really have to applaud him for, is he took down a sign that said: ‘The beatings shall continue until morale improves.’” He then added, “Morale improved.”
McDowell, pointing out that it had been a long time since the NCTA convention had been in Washington, likened it to returning to the scene of a crime, or a POW pilgrimage, but added: “The healing has begun.”
Both Adelstein and McDowell praised the cable industry’s DTV education efforts, particularly the call centers. But both also warned that the vast majority of viewers had not yet transitioned. In fact, McDowell pointed out, no market has gone all digital, and most major market stations are still broadcasting an analog signal.
McDowell said he expected there would need to be a “well-organized mop-up effort.”