Since the beginning of the year, the FCC has been acting with fewer than its full complement of Commissioners. Since the January departures of Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Rosenworcel, the Commission has had three Commissioners – two Republicans (Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly) and one Democrat (Commissioner Clyburn). Last week, Congress confirmed the nominations of Democratic Commissioner Rosenworcel for her return to the FCC, as well as new Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican. With these two expected to be sworn in in the very near future, it will complete the full house of three Republicans and two Democrats. With the background of the new Commissioners, and the 3-2 Republican majority, is this a winning hand?

With this make-up of the FCC, the Commission will likely continue to proceed in the deregulatory fashion that we have seen so far this year.   Commissioner Rosenworcel is a known quantity, having served on the FCC for several years before her term ran out in January. While a Democrat, during her initial term as a Commissioner, her views reportedly departed from those of Chairman Wheeler in a few instances , modifying the outcome of some of his initiatives. New Commissioner Carr has been serving as the FCC’s General Counsel under Chairman Pai, and had previously worked as a legal advisor in Pai’s office. While his legal background has primarily been in non-broadcast areas, as General Counsel, his office was involved in several significant broadcast actions, including the recent defense of the reinstatement of the UHF discount against attempts by certain public interest groups to have the Court of Appeals impose a stay the effective date of the Commission’s action (see our article here). Of course, these positions are not necessarily indicative of his stances when he is acting as an independent Commissioner instead of acting in a role that was subject to the direction of the Commissioners. Only time will tell for sure how the new fully-staffed Commission will interact with each other, but the bets are that the general direction will not be changing.
Continue Reading A Full House at the FCC as Two “New” Commissioners Confirmed

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?

The Senate on Monday approved, after months of delay, the nominations as new FCC Commissioners of Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai.  Once they are sworn in and assume their new jobs in the next few days, this will bring the FCC up to full strength with 5 seated Commissioners for the first time in a year.  Rosenworcel comes from having worked for the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees FCC regulation.  She previously worked as a legal assistant to former Commissioner Copps at the FCC.  Pai has also worked on the Hill and at the FCC, so both have experience with issues before the Commission.

So what do these nominations mean for broadcasters?  Probably, not much in the immediate term.  With the two new Commissioners being added to the FCC, the balance of power remains in favor of the Democrats.  But, as we have seen over the years, most Commission decisions aren’t decided on a partisan basis – in fact most are unanimous.  In the recent past, there are a few decisions where the Commission has been somewhat divided, with Republican Robert McDowell tending to take a somewhat more deregulatory position, as in connection with the recent ruling on online public inspection files for TV stations.  But party affiliation is not necessarily a guide to a Commissioner’s positions, as many of the proposals for broadcast re-regulation first arose during the Republican administration of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (see, for instance, the proposals for localism regulation and the original proposal for an online public file adopted in 2007). 


Continue Reading Two New FCC Commissioners Approved by the Senate – What Does It Mean 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