Former FCC chairman and Wiley Rein partner Dick Wiley said
Tuesday that as primarily a one-channel service in a multichannel universe,
broadcasters need some deregulatory help from the FCC.
That came at a Hudson Institute forum on the once and future
FCC. He was being interviewed by former FCC commissioner and Hudson senior
fellow Harold Furchtgott-Roth.
Wiley said he understood the FCC's focus on broadband,
rather than broadcasting, but also said that broadcasting remained an important
service that needs both a change to local ownership and cross-ownership limits,
and preferably no change to retransmission consent rules he says are working.
Wiley provided the caveat that he represents a number of
broadcasters, but he had a host of caveats given that the firm of the
recognized dean of communications lawyers has also represented Comcast and
Verizon and AT&T and the veritable host of others.
Wiley noted that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has not
been particularly focused on media ownership and said he wasn't sure the
commission would be wrapping up its proceeding reviewing the rules anytime
soon, though he suggested it would need to find closure on the overdue 2010
quadrennial rule review mandate by Congress since the 2014 version was fast approaching.
But Wiley did not put the blame on the chairman for the
delay as much for what he said was a combination of factors. Those included
that the regulatory wheels grind slow no matter who is doing the grinding and
that media ownership engenders such controversy, and congressional pushback,
that it's almost impossible to get the changes made.
That said, he argued they needed to be made. It was the
Wiley FCC that approved the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership -- Genachowski
has proposed loosening the ban. Wiley, who would like to see the ban go away
period, said that when the ban was adopted [in the mid-1970s], they were afraid
of newspapers becoming too dominant. That, he pointed out, was obviously not
the case and the rule was outmoded.
He said he thought it was a problem that the country had
relatively low minority ownership of broadcast stations, but that the answer
was boost access to capital through incubator programs or tax certificates. It
is the impact of any media ownership rule changes on minority ownership that
have held up the FCC's review of the rules.
Wiley said that broadcasting remained primarily a
one-channel service in a multichannel world, which is why it needed
deregulatory help, and why it needed to maintain the dual revenue stream it had
gotten by negotiating retransmission consent payments for carriage rather than
bartering for co-owned cable channels like MSNBC or FX. He also said that he
didn't think broadcasters were getting full value for their channels, and complaints
about the rising cost of cable programming belonged more at the doorstep of
sports programming than TV stations, which he said were a relatively small
piece of the puzzle. While he said he thought retrans should be left alone, he
said he also expected it to be challenged as part of the debate over
reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA),
which expires at the end of next year.
He said the FCC would need to weigh in on the definition of
a multichannel video provider so it could settle what the carriage obligations
were for over-the-top providers. In essence, he said, online video providers
were a forced to be reckoned with, and the FCC would need to reckon with them
sooner than later.
Wiley, who helped develop HDTV transmission standard,
suggested that it was time to start thinking about a next-generation digital
transmission standard for the mobile, TV everywhere media world. He said such a
standard would most likely not materialize for a decade or so given that it
would not be backward compatible, so would require new TV receivers. He said
any sooner -- some have predicted a new standard this decade -- would be too
soon to disrupt TV viewing habits, but that when people see ultrahigh
definition TV, they will likely want it.