The knock on former FCC chair Julius Genachowski was that he was a bit of a Hamlet when it came to decisions, weighing and balancing and seeking consensus past the time when others felt he should have damned the torpedoes and sped ahead.
New FCC chief Tom Wheeler will likely not have a “Hamlet” label hung on him. He had not been chairman for more than a half-hour or so when he announced his staff.
He has already told wireless companies they should allow users to “unlock” their phones when their contracts are done (for use on other services), or the FCC will do it for them. He signaled that freeing spectrum will be an issue in considering whether to allow foreign ownership of broadcast properties; then last week, he stood with wireless execs at a White House event launching a “wireless jobs for vets” initiative and came just short of promising an order by January on IP transition tests the FCC has mulled for months.
Of course, a common theme is the focus on wireless, which most FCC watchers were expecting. So, we encourage the chairman to apply the same resolve and dispatch in dealing with broadcasting issues. There are a number of station mergers still being vetted that could use some regulatory certainty, for example.
Then there is that quadrennial media ownership review that Wheeler has said needs to be resolved. We agree; however, it needs to be resolved the right way, which means not making it any tougher for broadcasters to compete in the multiplatform world. And can we finally all agree that over-thetop video is a competitor for video viewers?
But most importantly, Wheeler’s predisposition to action should spur movement on the incentive auction front, which is linked to media ownership rules.
For broadcasters to decide whether they want to continue in the business or sell out to wireless carriers and move on, they need to know what kind of business the FCC is going to leave them with.
Tightening joint sales agreement rules and inaction on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership would signal a disinterest in the vibrant, free over-the-air service the FCC has claimed to want to promote.
Wheeler may have to combine the 2010 review— yes, that’s not a typo: The FCC still has not completed the 2010 review mandated by Congress— with the 2014 review and get it all done as early next year as possible. That should be high on the chairman’s to-do list—maybe with an asterisk for emphasis.