This past week, both FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell have announced that they are leaving the FCC in the near future. While their exact departure dates are uncertain, the press is already buzzing with anticipation about who will next lead the FCC, and who will take the place of Commissioner McDowell. The President gets to appoint the Chairman and new Commissioner, but his choices have to be approved by the US Senate. While there have from time to time in the past been delays in the approval process of new FCC Commissioners, with one Democrat and one Republican leaving, there is some speculation in Washington that the confirmation process can move forward in tandem, and hopefully without significant undue delay.

In the interim, the FCC can continue to do business with three Commissioners should the replacements not be confirmed before the departures.  But what will this change in the FCC mean for broadcasters? In short, the answer is that it is probably anyone’s guess. There is very little that can be discerned in advance about the impact of the selection of any Commissioner. Certainly, a new Chairman can have a significant impact in shaping the agenda pursued by the Commission, but one never knows exactly what that agenda will be until the Chairman takes his or her seat and starts to act. Sometimes the results are surprising as with the last Republican Chair who introduced many very regulatory proposals to govern broadcasting (see, for instance, the adoption of the Form 355 for television that, had it gone into effect, would have required detailed, voluminous reporting of all sorts of information about public interest programming by television stations; as well as still pending proceedings on sponsorship identification obligations and the initiation of a vigorous anti-indecency regime). Continue Reading FCC Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner McDowell To Leave the FCC – What’s Next for Broadcasters?

Just prior to the filing of comments in the FCC’s Localism proceeding on April 28, one FCC Commissioner has spoken out, condemning these proposals as being unnecessary in a world of vast media competition, and likely unconstitutional.  According to press reports, Commissioner Robert McDowell last week argued that the rules were unnecessary and counterproductive in a world of media plenty.  The Commissioner pointed to all of the competition from digital and traditional media and asked why the Commission should impose on broadcasters rules abolished 20 years ago – rules which will put them at a competitive disadvantage in the new media world.  These are sentiments that we have repeatedly echoed here.

Today, as comments were being submitted to the Commission, a letter from 23 Senators was sent to the Commission making many of the same arguments.  The letter suggests that the Commission was imposing unreasonable costs on broadcasters when these broadcasters have an economic incentive to serve the public or risk the loss of their audience and the resulting loss of advertising and income.  In other words, they are arguing that the Commission had it right 20 years ago when it decided that marketplace competition would insure that broadcasters served the public interest.  This letter is a companion to the letter sent to the FCC the week before last by members of the House of Representatives, about which we wrote here.Continue Reading As Comments are Filed in Localism Proceeding, Commissioner Speaks Out