Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

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Tauzin Says Lay Off FCC

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) urged lawmakers last week to reject legislation that would freeze the TV-ownership cap and remove the FCC's authority to set a new number. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), is aimed at dissuading the FCC from its June 2 vote on broadcast-ownership deregulation. The FCC is expected to hike the cap on one company's audience reach from 35% of TV households to 45%. "This review is not an option," Tauzin said in an open letter to his House colleagues. "It is an obligation to undertake a serious review of the regulatory standards—without presupposing the outcome, to respond to changes in the broadcast industry so that the Commission's rules reflect today's world, not that of 50 years ago. Do not take away the FCC's ability to do its job," he said. Later that day, Tauzin called on the FCC to stop dawdling and release a long-delayed order on access to phone facilities.

Finance Reforms Stick for Now

Last year's federal campaign-finance–reform restrictions will remain in effect until the Supreme Court rules on their constitutionality. A federal court last week stayed enforcement of its own May 2 decision striking down most of a law restricting election-season political ads and banning large corporate and union contributions to political parties. The campaign-reform law restricts the types of ads that can be broadcast on TV and radio close to an election. The law also banned "soft-money" donations to political parties—a gigantic source of funds for political TV ads. The court's move could wind up affecting broadcasters in the next election cycle. The vote is close enough and the court wheels grind slow enough that the limits could still be in effect unless the case is expedited.

Lobbyist Kelly Joins Comcast

Comcast has added former Disney and NAB lobbyist Brian Kelly to its Washington government-affairs team. Kelly has been SVP, global government relations and communications, for the Electronics Industries Association. "Brian will play a critical role in helping us introduce the new Comcast to policymakers on the Hill and in the administration," said Kerry Knott, company vice president of federal affairs.

Orlando's Prospects Brighten

Prospects that NAB acting chief lobbyist John Orlando will become the trade group's permanent Capitol Hill leader brightened when his main rival took a job at Fluor Corp. on March 14. David Marventano, staff director for House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, becomes senior vice president of government affairs for the California-based company beginning June 1. The Republican Tauzin had pressed NAB to name his aide to its lobbying post. Orlando is supported by his former boss, Rep. John Dingell, the committee's top Democrat and its former chairman.

DirecTV Comments Due June 16

Public comments on Rupert Murdoch/News Corp.'s bid to acquire control of DirecTV are due June 16, replies July 1, the FCC says. Under the proposed $6.6 billion deal, News Corp's Fox Entertainment Group would acquire a 34% interest in DirecTV owner Hughes Electronics Corp. from current corporate parent GM. The remaining two-thirds interest would continue to be owned by three GM employee benefit trusts and the general public. The deal will give News Corp. de facto control of DirecTV as well as of Hughes Network Services and PanAmSat.

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