On Friday, June 23, several of our attorneys attended the Digital Media Conference at Tysons Corner, Virginia. Tysons is in suburban Washington DC, and is at the center of Northern Virginia’s technology corridor. The Conference was excellent, bring together well over 300 people to discuss various topics relating to the media industry.
Bob Corn-Revere of our office spoke on a panel dealing with government content regulation of the media, including a discussion of indecency. I was on a panel dealing with other FCC matters that will affect the media. One topic that I was addressing was the FCC proceeding, begun only two days before the Conference, reopening the debate over the media ownership rules. A summary of the issues to be considered in this proceeding is available on our website.
In preparing for the Conference, it occurred to me that the debate over the multiple ownership rules really ties into the discussions of the broader media marketplace, and the other issues and debates going on in that marketplace. Everything from net neutrality to the setting of music royalties for webcasters operating Internet radio stations tie affect the debate on multiple ownership.
The FCC’s multiple ownership proceeding has at its heart twin concerns about competition and diversity in the local market. Diversity is perhaps the most important consideration for the FCC, as competition concerns are also regulated through state and Federal antitrust regulation. In the diversity debate, the FCC is concerned about whether the local listening audience has access to diverse information about local events, and to diverse viewpoints on local issues.
If there are competitive sources of information, then the FCC can justify greater ownership deregulation. Many of the current topics of debate and discussion in the greater media world will impact the FCC’s decision. For instance, decisions on net neutrality could affect multiple ownership considerations. The proponants of net neutrality argue that the government must mandate an "open" internet so that various all internet voices can make their way to the consumer. Those opposing the legislation of net neutrality standards say that, by doing so, certain new media offerings from the telephone companies and wireless carriers, will be able to develop and compete with entrenched media players. Either way that the debate is resolved, there may be an affect on competition and diversity, and thus on the multiple ownership considerations.
Similarly, the current proceeding before the Copyright Royalty Board to set music royalty rates for Internet radio may have an impact on these considerations. I represent a group of independant webcasters in the case, who worry that, if the rates are set too high, these independent voices will find it impossible to operate profitably, thus eliminating another source of diversity and competition.
Almost every day, there is another story in the press about some new media development – the growth of Internet video, the proliferation of I-Pods and other digital recording devices, media delivery to cell phones, the success or failure of satellite radio – that will impact the debate. And, given the shifting business fortunes of each of these new media outlets, the debate will continue to shift as the FCC deliberates its multiple ownership decision. So, the one thing that is certain, the debate will continue for quite a long time – perhaps years.