Capital Watch

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NAB Repeats XM Repeater Mantra

Broadcasters again are urging the FCC to do more to prevent XM Satellite Radio from offering local content that would more directly compete with radio stations through a system of local repeaters. XM says the repeaters are necessary to fill gaps in the satellite signal. In an April 14 letter to the FCC, the National Association of Broadcasters urged the FCC to condition all repeater licenses with a prohibition on any programming not also being transmitted by the satellite. NAB also urged the FCC to require XM to disclose all plans to provide locally differentiated services as well as to disclose technology in repeaters that could conceivably carry locally originated programs. NAB has frequently argued that XM wants repeaters in order to supplement national music and news programming with inserted local traffic and weather reports.

Noncoms Decry FCC Ruling

Last week's FCC decision barring noncommercial broadcasters from seeking licenses on commercial spectrum if for-profit broadcasters also seek the licenses is "very disappointing," said John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations. Lawson also complained about public stations' having to bid against commercial applicants for low-power translators used to fill gaps in the main signal's coverage. "Subjecting any public- television station to the auction process is always going to be a clear loss for the stations," he said. APTS and National Public Radio are expected to appeal the new rules. The FCC drafted new requirements for noncommercials that want spectrum outside of the channels reserved specifically for them after judges struck down rules requiring to them participate in auctions for full-power stations two years ago.

Public Stations Win Bid for Advance Funds

Public broadcasters won a big victory last week when congressional budget negotiators provided advanced funding of up to $23 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in fiscal 2006. The Bush Administration proposed eliminating the funding, which would have forced CPB to rely on year-to-year funding. Since 1976, Congress has appropriated CPB funds two years in advance, giving stations more leverage to seek funding from state and local governments and private donors. Advanced funding also provides public broadcasters some insulation from retribution when lawmakers are unhappy with programming.

A Quicker Buildout for Terrestrial Pay-TV?

The FCC last week said it might accelerate buildout requirements for companies that win licenses to develop a terrestrial microwave competitor to cable and satellite TV. The FCC asked whether a mandate to provide "substantial" service to license areas within 10 years should be supplemented with a less stringent five-year buildout milestone, too. Alternatively, the 10-year substantial-service deadline could itself be shortened.

Under the FCC standard, the general level of service to be considered "substantial" is four separate transmitters per million residents. Northpoint Technology and MDS America, two potential bidders, have argued that a shorter buildout requirement is needed to ensure rapid deployment and to prevent winners from "warehousing" spectrum. The FCC also said it is leaning toward changing the license coverage area from Component Economic Areas, which the Commerce Department uses to delineate local markets, to Nielsen Designated Market Area, the industry standard. Using DMAs, the FCC said, may make it easier for the licensees to carry local TV stations, which base carriage rights on DMAs. The FCC hopes to hold the auction on June 25.

Abernathy: No to Status Quo

Maintaining the status quo on media-ownership limits "really isn't an option," FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy told the Museum of TV and Radio in New York last week. How will she vote? She didn't say, of course, but noted that TV duopolies and crossownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market appear to increase local news.

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