Remember the infamous Gore commission — the one whose mission was to determine the public interest obligations of broadcasters given billions of dollars worth of publicly owned spectrum by Congress in 1996? Maybe not, since the issue has largely faded from public view and is rarely discussed in the current Republican administration.
So what exactly will the public get in return from the broadcasters in exchange for the largest free award of public resources in U.S. history? It’s a question that Democratic FCC member Michael Copps wants answered.
"There has been a tremendous void, a glaring gap, covering the DTV transition. It is answering the question: What are the obligations of broadcasters in making sure that digital television, when it comes, will serve the public interest?" asked Copps in a response to the FCC’s announcement of a second review of the DTV transition.
Copps advocated "calling the public interest issues forward and according them the high priority they deserve, and must have, if DTV is to serve the interests of the American people. I firmly believe that these issues deserve priority attention at the Commission. In the final analysis, these outstanding DTV public interest proceedings are many times more important than digital tuners and set-top boxes."
The commissioner suggested there are many questions that "cry out" for discussion and decision. Among them, he noted: "If a station carries programming that serves the needs of the community on one of its multicast channels, has it met its obligation to serve the needs of its local community even if other multicast channels carry no such programming? Can a station carry its weekly three hours of children’s programming exclusively on one multicast channel? How do statutory political broadcasting rules apply in a multicast environment? How, indeed, do we use this promising technology for the greater benefit of our people — all of our people?"
The FCC, said Copps, has an obligation to the broadcast industry, as well as to the public, to complete action on these pending proceedings and to consider what other initiatives might be taken, given that more than two years have passed since much of anything has happened on this issue of public service obligations.
Copps called on "all stakeholders — that is, all Americans — to take part in the FCC’s comment proceedings." "These are hugely important months for broadcasting in America, particularly in the context of our ongoing broadcast ownership proceedings," he said.
For more information visit www.fcc.gov.