Capital Watch


FCC Big Guns Will Head to Big Apple

According to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, FCC Commissioners Kevin Martin and Michael Copps and Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree have agreed to attend an informal "hearing" on media-ownership rules Jan. 16 at Columbia University in New York. At press time, AFTRA said FCC Chairman Powell and commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Kathleen Abernathy are also expected to attend, with confirmation expected by late last week.

Not an official hearing, the event will feature day-long panels—five of them—dissecting the media-ownership studies produced by FCC working groups as part of the commission's congressionally mandated review of its regulations.

The Columbia event was created at the prompting of AFTRA and other unions that have asserted that the FCC studies, which generally are seen as justifying some further deregulation, are flawed and more study is needed.

According to AFTRA, "sitting commissioners will accept presentations and may ask questions. Press and members of the audience will be invited to ask questions through a moderator." That moderator—AFTRA wants a journalist—has yet to be named.

(For Copps and Martin, January will be a frequent-flyer-friendly month. Both are slated to head to New Orleans for a Jan. 22 NATPE panel on family programming.)

Most commissioners also are expected to attend a media-ownership hearing hosted by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Communication Feb. 18. The two privately organized hearings supplement an FCC-sponsored hearing in Richmond Feb. 27.

To See or Not To See

The HDTV glass is either one-third full or nine-tenths empty, depending on whom you ask.

On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in a press release last Tuesday that cable has launched HDTV in more than 90 markets on systems serving 37 million homes, or about a third of the total. It conceded that the mix of cable and broadcast HDTV varied by market but, not surprisingly, trumpeted a host of cable HDTV offerings present and future. "HDTV service is very important to cable's future. Cable operators and programmers are striving to drive consumer demand for HDTV by creating more programming and making HDTV available to more TV households," said NCTA President Robert Sachs.

Hardly had the electrons dried on the NCTA e-mail when the National Association of Broadcasters shot back with its own release, weighing in like Paul Harvey to provide what it advertised as "the rest of the story."

In most of those 90-plus markets, said NAB, the only HDTV programming is coming from cable nets. Although there are now 700 digital free, over-the-air TV stations, NAB said, fewer than 10% are being carried on cable. "No amount of rosy NCTA spin changes the fact that the cable industry is still using its gatekeeper clout to deny most Americans access to over-the-air digital and high definition television programming."

NCTA gets new voice

Brian Dietz, former executive director of communications for AT&T Broadband's central California region, has been named senior director of communications and principal spokesperson for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He replaces Marc Smith, who left the post last month.

Before joining AT&T, Dietz worked for MediaOne in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He also served as press secretary for then-Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson and in public-affairs positions for the Minnesota Trade and Economic Development Agency and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Dietz also worked as senior writer for Northwest Airlines and reporter for Radio City Network News, a radio news network.