Concerns Beyond The Broadband Buzz

The FCC’s current full docket also includes media ownership, retrans and media’s future
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Ther talk at the FCC these days seems to be all broadband, all the time, but somewhat drowned out amidst the understandable spectrum-issue buzz are some key broadcast issues. And they will all need to be resolved if, as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has assured the industry, there will continue to be a broadcast business left—and one that will need more regulatory certainty and maybe even a little help.

Media ownership rule review. If the FCC does preserve enough of the broadcasting spectrum and potential business model to allow TV stations to compete, they will need to know what the new ground rules are in a world where the FCC is effectively!promoting online video as new competition to traditional delivery as part of its effort to drive broadband adoption and deployment.

Back in February, the Third Circuit court heard the challenge to the FCC’s old media ownership rules and it is expected to weigh in by July, according to Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, a public interest law " rm involved in the challenge. “Media policy issues, like everything else, take a back seat to broadband,” says Schwartzman.

An FCC official speaking on background says the commission would not wait for that decision before acting on the notice of proposed rulemaking stemming from the review, which would, the official says, happen by summer’s end.

Retransmission consent. Comments were due at the end of last week on the FCC’s proposed changes to the retransmission consent rules. A couple of those changes could have a huge impact on the business.

The commission proposed getting rid of the syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, which would allow cable operators to negotiate with nearby stations if they run into retrans impasses. The National Association of Broadcasters has said that could wreak havoc on their business model.

Granted, the FCC has not yet weighed in on deregulating broadcasting, but TV stations—cable opponents in the retransmission consent debate—have. Just last week, the American Television Alliance, which backs scrapping these syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, was touting a report that backed wholesale deregulation, only because it argued regulations were propping up a dying service.

The ‘Near Future’ of Media. The FCC has also promised to produce a report on the future of media, which it plans to factor in to whatever it decides to do about updating media ownership regs.

That report was to have been released by no later than the end of last year, according to original estimates. But an FCC source familiar with the report’s progress would only say it is now coming out “in the near future.”

Steve Waldman, the FCC advisor heading up the study, indicated last month that the report would make a candid assessment of FCC rules. It also apparently found that TV stations remain a chief source of local news. Broadcasters understandably want that " nding to inform whatever the FCC does on media ownership.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

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