FCC Chairman Kevin Martin blamed his pulling of the low-power must-carry item from the agenda for the FCC's Oct. 15 meeting in Nashville on the other four commissioners, who he said informed him this week they would not support a notice of proposed rulemaking that included extending must-carry status to more than 500 low-power stations.
Martin said he had been hopeful the commission would consider at least opening a proposed rulemaking, which allows for public comment, but was disappointed that four commissioners said they would not vote for or support even that NPRM, which is not a final order.
"I am very upset that the other commissioners had months to consider an item and decided they would submit edits Monday night. All four of them did not want to proceed with an item that would give low-power television the same opportunity that full-power had."
He said the commissioners were not willing even to vote no on that item if that is what they wanted. "They just wanted to change it to an NOI," he said, "which would have been meaningless and strip out the controversial parts that would have given low power any opportunity to have carriage rights."
FCC Commissioner Joanathan Adelstein took issue with the suggestion the other commissioners were trying to strip out the must-carry question. "The proposal of the four commissioners included a full discussion of giving full-power status to low-power stations so they could get must-carry," he said.
"He doesn't even bother showing up, then he attacks us while we are sitting in an official meeting for his failure to move an LPTV item that he stalled since last February," said Adelstein pointedly.
The FCC had a similar item in front of it in February, but that one did not get voted because of other commissioners' desire to make it an inquiry. "If he had just launched this NOI last February," said Adelstein, "we might have been in a position to do a notice of proposed rulemaking today," he said.
Martin had told reporters that several commissioners said they would support a notice of inquiry, which is a step short of a proposed rulemaking, but said that even then, they wanted to remove the potential for carriage from that inquiry. Without that, Martin said, the proposals have provided "nothing" for low powers, saying he was frustrated for low-power stations backers, as well as from a policy perspective. Martin did not go to the Nashville meeting, then called the press conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
Martin accused some of his colleagues who had talked about encouraging diverse voices from being unwilling to do so because broadcast and cable interest opposed low-power must carry.
He also said that any of the commissioners who said at the Nashville meeting that they were ready to go forward had not been forthcoming given their positions against low-power carriage. At that meeting, Commissioner Robert McDowell, for example, called it "shameful" that low-power TV backers had made the trip to Nashville only to find the item pulled from the agenda at the last minute. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein also apologized, saying that isn't how the commission should be run.
Senior FCC sources with knowledge of the low-power must-carry item said that the four other commissioners were all prepared to vote for a proposal to establish a hard date for LPTV's switch to digital--they currently have none--and for other items to make it easier for those stations to make the switch.
They were also ready to approve a notice of inquiry that dealt with other issues including carriage, but were not ready to propose rules that included low-power must-carry for reasons including concerns about the FCC's legal authority to extend must-carry to Class A low powers and cable system and satellite capacity.
They were also concerned about other proposals that involved low-power stations qualifying for carriage on public access channels and for the DBS set-aside that is currently confined to noncommercial channels.
One source said that the chairman's proposal was floated last week and by Monday there were four votes to proceed so long as "problematic" parts of the proposed rulemaking were racheted down to an inquiry so the FCC could gather more information.
Martin talked about the must-carry item withreporters at a press conference Wednesday at which the chairman outlined agenda items for the FCC's Nov. 4 public meeting.
Martin has argued that low-power must-carry would aid in the DTV transition and promote diversity of voices, since many low-powers are Spanish language.
The cable industry has said it is unnecessary and an illegal taking of their property and an infringement of their First Amendment rights.