For the first time since the term of FCC Commissioner Tate expired and Chairman Martin resigned, the FCC will be back to full strength with the Senate's approval of new FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Attwell Baker. What issues of importance to broadcasters will the Commission, now headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski, take up in coming months? The new Chairman, who gave a number of interviews last week with the trade and popular press, emphasized the importance of the broadband rollout. Beyond that, his priorities for the broadcast media were not detailed. He did, however, emphasize, that any broadcast regulation (specifically referencing the mandatory review of the broadcast ownership rules that must begin next year), would have to take into account the realities of the marketplace - including the current economic conditions.
Beyond that, there were few clues as to the new FCC's priorities in the broadcast world. But, even though there are no indications of the FCC's priorities, there are many open broadcast issues that the Commission will, sooner or later, need to resolve. Some involve fundamental questions of priorities - trying to decide which user of the spectrum should be preferred over others. Other issues deal with questions of what kind of public service obligations broadcasters will face. And yet another set of issues deal with just the nitty gritty technical issues with which the FCC is often faced. Let's look at some of these open issues that may affect the broadcast industry.
In the first category - the issues of priorities of one type of service over another, issues include the following:
- The priorities between LPFM stations and FM translators and full power stations (see our posts here and here on that issue)
- Final resolution of the White Spaces issues - implementing the FCC's decision to make TV spectrum available for use by wireless devices, or reconsidering that decision based on the pending appeals by the television industry
- Deciding whether to take TV channels 5 and 6 and change them into radio channels (see our post here), when a limited number of full power TV stations, as well as a number of LPTV stations are currently using the channels
- Making a decision about increased HD radio power, which some other FM stations that rely on service at the fringes of their protected contours or or beyond worry would interfere by such power increases
In the second category of issues - the question of what public interest regulations the Commission should impose on broadcasters, issues include:
- Dealing with the Petitions for Reconsideration of the FCC's decisions to require TV stations to put their public files on line and to complete the Form 355 detailing all of their public service programming in minute detail - rules adopted in late 2006 but never implemented or even sent to the Office and Management and Budget for review of their compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act
- Resolution of the FCC's localism proceeding proposing regulations including:
- A return to mandatory main studios in the station's city of license
- Manned main studios during all hours of station operations
- Mandatory public service obligations for broadcasters
- Consideration of the process for the selection of music on broadcast stations and whether more local music should be required
- Potential extension of the TV public file and Form 355 obligations set out above to radio
- Issues about the Arbitron PPM and whether it discriminates against minority owned stations
- Resolution of the rural radio proceeding which includes questions about what kind of service stations need to provide to their city of license
- Decisions on the proposals to mandate stricter sponsorship identification rules allegedly to protect the consumer from being influenced by undisclosed sponsors
Other more technical or procedural issues are also pending before the Commission, including:
- The final stages of the DTV conversion - including the final dates for the digital conversion of LPTV and TV translators
- Various pending diversity proposals to increase new entrants into broadcasting
- Reconsideration requests from 2003 on the FCC's EEO rules
- Decisions on the question of how to treat on-line sales of commercials on broadcast stations for lowest unit rate purposes for political candidates
And, of course, there are those issues that never go away. Indecency cases are still pending before the Courts, so the Commission may once again have to face that issue. And there is that little question of the Fairness Doctrine that just refuses to go away. I'm sure that there are other issues that have escaped my mind while I'm writing this - but even if there were not, it is clear that the new Commission has plenty to keep it busy without even needing to bring up any new issues for the broadcaster. And Congress can always give the FCC new things to do, like reregulating children's television programming or restricting prescription drug advertising. Let's hope that these keep the Commission plenty busy for now, and that they don't have time to start anything new.