Capital Watch

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Coalition of the Unhappy

Some party crashers aim to shake up NAB's convention in Vegas. They include the FCC's own Michael Copps.

The Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition, an ad hoc amalgam of activist groups, will hold a rally/press conference outside convention headquarters. It wants the FCC to make new, specific public-interest obligations a quid pro quo for broadcasters' digital channels, especially if stations win the right to demand cable carriage of the multiple channels each will be able to offer.

Democrat Commissioner Copps and the group will hold a 1 p.m. press conference April 20 near the convention, exact location to be announced. The event is timed to precede a 4 p.m. appearance by Copps and other commissioners at an NAB panel.

The coalition also plans to make its presence felt by renting a hot-air balloon advertising its cause. Coalition members include Mediachannel.org, Common Cause, and the Center for Digital Democracy.

Nice Dish

The House Telecommunications Subcommittee is expected this week to pass a bill reestablishing satellite companies' right to carry local TV channels and network superstations.

In a move that pleases TV stations, EchoStar will have to stop splitting local channels between two dish antennas, as it does in some markets. Broadcasters say that practice hurts lower-rated stations because many subscribers don't bother to install the second dish.

The plan also addresses broadcasters' complaint that DBS providers abuse their right to import so-called superstations—stations brought in from out-of-town markets when customers can't get good pictures from local stations. Going forward, no such station could be offered in any market where local channels are carried.

Don't Look That Hard

Be careful what you wish for. The Campaign Legal Center and other Washington good-government types are asking the FEC to ratchet down its scrutiny of nonprofit activist groups. It was at the Legal Center's request, as well as that of Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, that the FEC started looking into whether all nonprofits that raise money for political causes should face the same fundraising limits as political parties.

The Legal Center wants the FEC to limit gigantic "soft"-money contributions to activist groups, like MoveOn.org, that funnel millions into TV ads for the presidential campaign. The FEC, however, is considering limits on less campaign-oriented groups, such as Sierra Club. Such a broad approach is a "recipe for failure," the Legal Center told the FEC last week, and ignores a need to stop groups that are putting almost all their cash into campaign ads.

Denver Blues

If million-dollar-plus indecency fines weren't enough, Clear Channel Chief Legal Officer Andy Levin now has the headache of a major antitrust trial.

The country's largest station group faces an August date in Denver's federal district court to answer a promoter's charges that it abuses its dominant position in local radio and concert promotion. Clear Channel officials say they will refute the allegations in court.

Meanwhile, Levin is preparing to move to his new post overseeing the company's legal operations. Replacing him as Washington lobbyist is Jessica Marventano (above), former Republican telecom aide to the House Commerce Committee. Marventano, who joined April 15, is a former Washington counsel for Comcast and a longtime House colleague of Levin, himself a former communications staffer for Michigan's John Dingell, Commerce's top Democrat.

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