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. 


Continue Reading A Full Five Person FCC – What’s Next For Broadcasters?

With Barack Obama’s historic victory just sinking in, all over Washington (and no doubt elsewhere in the country), the speculation begins as to what the new administration will mean to various sectors of the economy (though, in truth, that speculation has been going on for months).  What will his administration mean for broadcasters?  Will the Obama administration mean more regulation?  Will the fairness doctrine make a return?  What other issues will highlight his agenda?  Or will the administration be a transformational one – looking at issues far beyond traditional regulatory matters to a broader communications policy that will look to make the communications sector one that will help to drive the economy?  Some guesses, and some hopes, follow.

First, it should be emphasized that, in most administrations, the President has very little to do with the shaping of FCC policy beyond his appointment of the Commissioners who run the agency.  As we have seen with the current FCC, the appointment of the FCC Chairman can be the defining moment in establishing a President’s communications policy.  The appointment of Kevin Martin has certainly shaped FCC policy toward broadcasters in a way that would never have been expected in a Republican administration, with regulatory requirements and proposals that one could not have imagined 4 years ago from the Bush White House.  To see issues like localism, program content requirements and LPFM become such a large part of the FCC agenda can be directly attributed to the personality and agenda of the Chairman, rather than to the President.  But, perhaps, an Obama administration will be different.


Continue Reading The Promise of an Obama Administration for Broadcast and Communications Regulation

In March, we wrote about the concurring opinion of Commissioner Copps in connection with the sale of Univision Communications, where the Commissioner asked whether it was in the public interest to allow the sale of broadcast companies to private equity firms.  That theme has now been picked up by Congress, as Congressman John Dingell, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ed Markey, Chairman of the Telecommunications Subcommittee, jointly sent a letter to the FCC asking for answers to a series of questions about the impact of private equity ownership of media and telecommunications facilities.  The letter, here, cites the Univision case, the acquisition of Clear Channel and the sale of a number of Radio One radio stations to private equity firms, and suggests that these firms may be more interested in cutting expenses and maximizing profits to the detriment of the public interest.  The letter asks a number of questions about whether the FCC has adequate information about such ownership to assess its impact on the public interest.

The questions posed by the letter include the following:

  • Whether the FCC currently tracks ownership of media properties by private equity companies.
  • Whether the FCC has assessed the impact of private equity ownership on localism and, if it has not, should it
  • Whether the FCC has adequate information to assess the impact of media ownership by these companies on multiple ownership considerations
  • Whether the Commission’s Equity-Debt Plus rules need to be revised to take account of private equity ownership
  • If the ownership of these entities is sufficiently public and transparent for the Commission to review that ownership.

The letter was addressed to Chairman Martin, and he was given until July 20 in which to respond.


Continue Reading Congress Asks FCC to Answer Questions about Private Equity Ownership of Media Properties