The President has nominated Thomas Wheeler as the next FCC Chairman, to become effective after confirmation by the US Senate. What does this mean for broadcasters? As we have said before, one never really knows what issues will drive a Chairman’s agenda. For this Chair, some issues are clear – like dealing with the incentive auction to reclaim some TV spectrum for wireless use, which is inevitably marching forward. Other issues are forced on the FCC – like dealing with the indecency issues still pending after Supreme Court remand, or the multiple ownership quadrennial review still pending at the Commission while waiting for the MMTC study on the effects of media cross ownership on the ability of minorities and other new entrants to get into broadcast ownership. And some are issues that for one reason or another capture the interest or attention or concern of the FCC Chair. Usually, these issues don’t become clear until after the Chairman assumes his position, but that has not stopped many in Washington from speculating what the new Chairman will do once he is confirmed.
Interestingly, the speculation ranges the gamut, from Free Press fearing that he will be too friendly to big business because of his past service as the head of two trade associations – NCTA (the cable television industry trade association) and CTIA (the wireless industry association), to the statement of Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fearing that he will impose too many regulations on these same big business organizations. In short, the perspective on the nomination seems to be based, at least in part, on the initial perspective of those who muse about what it means.
Some have also looked to Mr. Wheeler’s Blog, Mobile Musings, where he has commented on issues of interest to the communications industry. Of course, we think that it is great that a blogger will assume the Chair of the FCC. But, as with this blog, any writings are just the musings of the writer at the time they are written – and sometimes don’t provide deep insight into the personal preferences of the writer. But Mr. Wheeler’s writings provide ammunition for speculation and deduction as to what the positions of the new Chair will be.
Some on the television side of the broadcast industry fear various comments about the incentive auction to reclaim portions of the television band for wireless uses. The comments suggest that broadcasters should not be fighting the move, but embracing it. They also suggest that the multicast digital television capability of over-the-air stations should provide capacity for those broadcasters who want to continue to serve their communities with an over-the-air signal to do so, while still allowing the reclamation of significant spectrum for wireless. There were a few suggestions that television owners themselves should be paying more attention to digital media – comments with which many broadcasters no doubt agree themselves.
Do these articles spell some anti-broadcast prejudice on the part of the new Chair? Who knows? Just as this blog represents the thoughts of the author only at the time it is written, so too do the posts of Mr. Wheeler. From experience, I know that some of the speculations and predictions that I made on this Blog years ago have been proven wrong, and positions on issues change over time. In assuming a new position like the Chair of the FCC, where he will have to weigh the comments, perspectives and concerns of different industries and different stakeholders, as well as having to get the vote of at least two other commissioners for any action that he may want to take, we would assume that Mr. Wheeler’s positions as Chairman won’t necessarily be the same as those that he offered when he was speaking for himself, musing on his blog about the state of the communications industry.
But, only time will tell. Of course, broadcasters on the radio side can’t even speculate on the impact of a Wheeler administration from the writings on his blog about the radio industry, as a search of the blog reveals few mentions of radio – and those that exist often seem to be in the phrase “television and radio,” and talk generally about how the new media is invading the turf of the old, and how the old media needs to adjust. Not exactly controversial positions – even for an FCC Chair.
So what does it mean for broadcasters? It means watching to see what develops over the next few years. No surprise there.