Capital Watch


TV Spectrum: Poster Child for Mismanagement

"Don't be like television!" is the Bush Administration's message in a new Commerce Department call for tougher receiver standards for new communications services. The lack of receiver regulation led to inefficient use of TV spectrum, according to comments to the FCC last week by Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

Because of poor analog receivers, the FCC was forced to ban assignments of adjacent TV channels in a market. "Had television-receiver standards been implemented, this constraint would not have been necessary, and there would have been adequate television channels to satisfy demand," NTIA told the FCC.

Although it's too late for analog TV, NTIA said the same mistake should be avoided going forward with new services in other swaths of the communications spectrum.

Odd-Lot Political Ads Are OK

For more than four years, the NAB and FCC have been duking it out over rules requiring stations to offer political ads that candidates apparently don't want to buy. Last week, the FCC upheld a 1999 ruling allowing candidates for federal office to buy "odd-lot" ads of non-standard length. The idea was to give cash-strapped candidates an opportunity to purchase something besides 30-second spots or expensive program-length ads.

The Media Access Project and People for the American Way pushed for the ruling, thinking that five-minute buys would give politicians a chance to deliver more-substantive messages without busting their budgets. The ruling overturned a ban on odd lots that had been in place since 1994.

In rejecting the NAB's appeal, the FCC said that requiring odd-lot ads is in line with an FCC order issued during President Carter's reelection campaign. The FCC also noted that stations can still reject requests if they disrupt TV schedules. The agency also acknowledged almost nonexistent demand for the spots. NAB shrugged off the loss. Said spokesman Dennis Wharton, "These rules have been in place since 1999, and we've not seen much demand for odd-length political-ad spots."

Democrats Rain On Cable-Rate Party

A byproduct of partisan fighting over judicial nominations was the cancellation of a Senate hearing on rising cable rates. In retaliation for a GOP plan to hold 30 hours of debate over the stalled nominations, Democrats have invoked a rule allowing them to prohibit Senate meetings outside the floor lasting more than two hours. Democrats were angry that progress toward completing lingering spending bills and adjourning for the year was delayed by the debate on judges. Conservatives are furious that Democrats' stalling tactics have blocked votes on several favorite nominees.

FCC Sticks With Channels 51-69 Plan

Rules allowing TV stations on chs. 51-69 to strike voluntary band clearing agreements with wireless operators and other new users will remain as they are, the FCC decided. The agency rejected requests by the Association for Maximum Service Television and the NAB to prohibit band-clearing deals if the new user creates interference. Even interference that could be mitigated with directional antennas, power reductions or antenna height adjustments would have been banned.

The FCC also rejected the groups' call not to extend the more lenient band-clearing rules for chs. 51-58 to chs. 51-59.

Finally, the FCC said no to an explicit ban on mandatory band clearing on chs. 59-69. The FCC said fears of forced evacuation were "overstated."

Gallant Strides to Schwab Capital

Paul Gallant, media adviser to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, exited his post to join Schwab Capital Markets in Washington as senior media analyst. He joined Powell's office in August after heading the FCC's Media Ownership Task Force. Start date for Gallant's new post has not been set. Serving Powell as interim media adviser will be special policy counsel Jonathan Cody.