Washington Watch


Bush Eyes Barrales for FCC

Senior White House official Ruben Barrales is the latest Oval Office favorite on the short list for one of the two open FCC seats.

Barrales, 42, director of intergovernmental affairs, is President Bush’s liaison to state governments and other local officials. Barrales is Bush’s likely alternate choice if former Texas utility regulator Rebecca Klein turns down a commission seat, say industry sources following the FCC commissioner hunt. Klein, who is Hispanic, has long been viewed as Bush’s pick for the FCC, but she may instead choose to become the nation’s power czar as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

If Klein chooses FERC, Barrales would allow the president to still appoint a Hispanic to the TV industry’s main regulatory agency, which currently has four white members and no racial minorities.

Barrales is the son of Mexican immigrants. Before joining the White House in 2001, he was CEO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, an organization promoting the high-tech region’s businesses. In 1992, Barrales became the first Latino elected to the San Mateo County board of supervisors.

The other open FCC slot appears guaranteed to Christine Kurth, telecom aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens.

Lawmakers Back Trust Fund for Public Broadcasting

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is fighting to build a trust fund for public broadcasting from some of the proceeds from upcoming auctions of TV channels and other items in the communications spectrum.

Bills introduced in both the Senate and House would create a “Digital Opportunities Investment Trust” that would be used to help stations roll out distance learning and other new services made possible by the transition to digital broadcasting. It would also be earmarked for digitizing information in libraries, museums and universities.

John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, has been pushing for the creation of a trust that would be roughly $500 million, but by slating 30% of the billions in revenue expected to be generated by spectrum auctions, the legislation could ensure a dramatically larger fund. The money would not replace the annual appropriation to public broadcasting from Congress.

Paxson, NBC Row Lands at FCC

The fight between Paxson Communications and business partner NBC Universal may now be up to the FCC to decide.

Paxson last week complained to the FCC that NBC is trying to take “illegal control” of the 57-station TV group rather than accept financially struggling Paxson’s abrupt decision to cancel their joint sales agreement and rethink its programming strategy.

Paxson is seeking a declaratory ruling from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, barring NBC from influencing Paxson programming. Paxson also asked the agency to impose “whatever additional monetary forfeitures it deems appropriate.”

NBC says Paxson’s complaint has no merit.

Paxson’s petition is a reaction to NBC’s May 12 request for binding arbitration by private negotiators to determine whether Paxson violated their 1999 joint sales agreement with NBC.

Deaf Deride 'Idol’ Caption Snafu

Looking to bolster its case for tougher FCC captioning rules, The National Association of the Deaf is expressing “disappointment” with Fox’s American Idol for displaying incorrect voting phone numbers in captioning during the May 10 singing competition.

Fox, which had problems posting correct phone numbers earlier in the season, concedes that it put the wrong phone number in closed captioning for every contestant on that episode but one. However, Fox said, the phone number, available to all viewers on screen, was correct. (Fox says lip readers would have gotten the correct number as well.)