As expected, the FCC Thursday opened a notice of proposed rulemaking into the local franchising process for multichannel video providers, extended the emergency alert system to digital TV stations, and modified the DTV-tuner mandate to cover smaller sets like the portable ones that prove lifelines in emergencies.
Essentially the FCC, in looking into the franchise process, posed a number of questions about what constitutes reasonable or unreasonable behavior by a local franchising authority.
It based those questions on the premise that, rather than simply applying to the ultimate refusal to grant a franchise, "unreasonable refusal" should be interpreted more broadly, and that it can preempt state and local franshise regs that prove to be unreasonable barriers to competition.
The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers said it welcomed a fact-based inquiry, but also said that, “The [FCC notice] comes as the result of large telephone and other telecommunications companies’ efforts to largely avoid the established local franchising process, but more specifically to avoid having to individually negotiate the statutorily protected areas of build-out requirements, public, educational and governmental capacity and capital support and the important public safety benefits in the provision of institutional networks."
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps injected some warning notes into the proceedings, saying: "The Commission needs to tread with caution and care before it asserts any authority to interpose itself with LFAs(local franchising authorities) to the extent Congress specifically delegated power to local officials. We are going out on limb already by creating a “de facto” refusal theory and tentatively concluding that the Commission has the ability to determine whether an LFA is “unreasonably refus[ing] to award a competitive franchise.”
The FCC Thursday also decided to extend the DTV tuner mandate to all sets, not just those 13 inches and larger. It is also moving up the tuner mandate by four months to March 1, 2007. That is the date after which all TV recievers sold must be able to recieve a digital signal.
"We're pleased that Chairman Martin and his colleagues have established an even more aggressive timeline for DTV tuner compliance in smaller television sets,"said NAB President Eddie Fritts. "This pro-consumer action sends the unmistakable signal to set manufactures that further delays in rolling out DTV receiving equipment are unacceptable."
In its other action of the day, the FCC said that its emergency alert system (EAS) rules will now apply to digital broadcast and cable TV, satellite, digital audio, satellite radio, and direct broadcast satellite services. All but DBS providers must be in compliance by Dec. 31, 2006. Satellite gets an extra five months, to May 31, 2007.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing for a review of the franchise process to help advance the rollout of broadband. He also told Congress last month that the FCC needed to update its EAS system to include new technologies.
The FCC also plans to hold an en banc hearing on franchise issues.