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Accord Characterizes FCC Face-off

by Deborah D. McAdams~ April 26, 2006


This year's annual face-off between FCC commissioners didn't actually create a lot of sparks. The two Democrats and one Republican who participated were pretty much on the same page.

The commission's two Democrats, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, and Republican Deborah Tate, all riffed on the power of localism intrinsic to broadcasting. Regarding the future of the business in the face of burgeoning distribution platforms, Adelstein cited localism as the ultimate differentiator in broadcasting.

"Young people have a whole new attitude about media," he said. "There are certain key elements that broadcasters have that no one else can replicate," in particular content. "The secret key is localism. No one else can do local content."

Copps said everyone on the commission was "deeply dedicated to localism," and that he'd like to see it rolled into the rewrite of the FCC's media ownership rules.

"We'll have to tee up a new proceeding on that," Copps said. "I think we should look at it comprehensively, not piecemeal," something earlier suggested by Chairman Kevin Martin, who has since indicated that he's reconsidering that strategy. "I don't think it's rocket science to pass a set of rules that will pass court muster," he said.

A federal court stayed the last rewrite; another is pending a full commission. The FCC has been short a commissioner since Kevin Martin took over the chairmanship a year ago. The nomination of Republican telecom attorney Robert McDowell awaits approval on Capitol Hill.


Copps said media ownership was one of two issues he was particularly eager to address in the coming year. The other was homeland security. Copps said he was "pleased" that Martin had ramped up attention to homeland security issues, "but we're not ready for the next hurricane or the next terrorist attack."

Adelstein added public education to his to-do list. He's concerned that Americans won't be ready when the government pulls the plug on analog broadcasting come Feb. 17, 2009.

"We need to be making sure that consumers are ready in every possible way for digital television so that their sets don't go dark in 2009," he said.

Adelstein has proposed creating a joint task force with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is in charge of the digital-to-analog converter program, "to make sure we get a unified message out there, and that we're addressing the unique target audiences out there."

"I think we need to step up our efforts to coordinate," he said. "People are buying analog sets; cheap ones are going out the door."

On the topic of losing unlicensed devices in white spaces, Adelstein urged prudence.

"It's something we need to be very careful about," he said. "I want to see us use the spectrum for as much data as we can, but certainly not at the price of interfering with broadcasters. Whatever we do, we have to work carefully with the industry."

Copps agreed. "We have to find a way to navigate through this," he said. "I also understand that a DTV signal is particularly sensitive to interference, but there is a need for more spectrum. We can't just close our eyes to that."

Another issue could also see the light of day at the commission. Copps said there may come a time when it would be "apropos" to take another crack at multicast must-carry, but that he maintained his long-held position that public-interest obligations in the digital realm should first be defined.

None of the commissioners backed off of the hard line on indecency. Stations and networks recently racked up $4.5 million in FCC fines for indecency violations.

© 2006 NAB