Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

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NAB's FCC ties

Broadcasters shouldn't fret that their trade-group attorneys are in cahoots with the FCC.

Even though the National Association of Broadcasters' two senior attorneys have close ties to FCC Chairman Michael Powell and years of experience at the agency, they pledge to remain wary of Powell initiatives to reclaim analog TV channels by 2009 and make stations share digital spectrum with other telecom services.

Marsha MacBride, the NAB legal- and regulatory-affairs chief who was Powell's chief of staff before joining NAB last December, has hired 26-year FCC veteran and longtime colleague Jane Mago as general counsel. Mago was Powell's general counsel from 2001 to 2003 and most recently led the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

"I wouldn't look for any major changes." says MacBride. "I still have the same board, and I am their attorney. Broadcasters feel under attack even as they produce a huge benefit for the American public."

Powell: Keep the Date

Despite broadcasters' complaints that 2009 could be too soon for many to give up their analog channels, FCC Chairman Michael Powell points out that the alternative could be much worse. Last week, he was trying to help broadcasters fend off the more aggressive congressional proposals to reclaim the channels. He told the Senate Commerce Committee that earlier dates, such as the 2006 hard date that powerful House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R.-Texas) wants, will come before most consumers and stations are ready to give up old analog broadcasts.

Powell told the committee that a 2009 deadline would give all parties fair warning to prepare.

He made his comments during a hearing examining the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to speed the return of broadcast spectrum so police and other public safety departments can use it.

One proposed bill would set Jan. 1, 2007, as the give-back date for channels in the 700 MHz band now used by 75 TV stations. Powell argued that, if Congress decided to make that a hard date, it should also set the 2009 hard date, too, in order to minimize the inequity of making one group of broadcasters give up their channels before the rest.

FCC: Digitizing Low-Power TV

One glitch in the FCC's plans to make TV stations go all-digital has been how to ensure that rural, mostly western U.S. communities far from TV stations continue getting programming after analog service goes away. Most of those communities get their TV not from the main stations in their region but from low-power translators that relay the signals to distant communities.

Last week, the commission finally outlined rules of the road for translators and other low-power stations—more than seven years after it set them for full-power stations. The decision affects some 4,700 translators and 2,100 low-power stations.

All low-powers will be able to "flash-cut" immediately to digital service on their existing channel or apply for a second digital channel to run side-by-side with their analog, as almost all full-power stations are doing. Independent low-powers—which are not tied to full-power stations and are often community-run, minority-targeted or religious channels—generally will have the same opportunities to offer multicast channels and subscription services the way other stations do.

Eyes on Spanish TV

The ad industry's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) will monitor Spanish-language children's advertising with money provided by the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America.

CARU, an arm of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, reviews ads for truth and accuracy according to industry guidelines and will contact companies it considers in violation. In extreme cases, it can refer them to the Federal Trade Commission, although traditionally the advertisers comply with CARU's recommendations and either modify or pull offending ads. Most of CARU's efforts are aimed at overseeing food ads targeting kids.

NAB Pushes Emergency Readiness

The National Association of Broadcasters is launching a digital-age "duck-and-cover" campaign in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security. "Are You Ready?" is a set of TV ads billed as an emergency-preparedness guide for viewers and will be distributed to TV and radio stations throughout the month (September is National Preparedness Month).

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