The FCC has extended the comment deadline in two proceedings looking at imposing new public interest obligations on TV broadcasters (and potentially, at some point in the future, on radio stations as well). Both proceedings are an outgrowth of the FCC’s Future of Media Report, that suggested that broadcasters be made to be more
The FCC today heard from its Future of Media task force, when its head, Steven Waldman presented a summary of its contents at its monthly meeting. At the same time, the task force issued its 475 page report – which spends most of its time talking about the history of media and the current media landscape, and only a handful of pages presenting specific recommendations for FCC action. The task force initially had a very broad mandate, to examine the media and how it was serving local informational needs of citizens, and to recommend actions not only for the FCC, but also for other agencies who might have jurisdiction over various media entities that the FCC does not regulate. Those suggestions, too, were few in the report as finally issued. What were the big headlines for broadcasters? The report suggests that the last remnants of the Fairness Doctrine be repealed, and that the FCC’s localism proceeding be terminated – though some form of enhanced disclosure form be adopted for broadcasters to report about their treatment of local issues of public importance, and that this information, and the rest of a broadcaster’s public file, be kept online so that it would be more easily accessible to the public and to researchers. Online disclosures were also suggested for sponsorship information, particularly with respect to paid content included in news and informational programming. And proposals for expansion of LPFMs and for allowing noncommercial stations to raise funds for other nonprofit entities were also included in the report.
While we have not yet closely read the entire 475 page report, which was tiled The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age, we can provide some information about some of the FCC’s recommendations, and some observations about the recommendations, the process, and the reactions that it received. One of the most important things to remember is that this was simply a study. As Commissioner McDowell observed at the FCC meeting, it is not an FCC action, and it is not even a formal proposal for FCC action. Instead, the report is simply a set of recommendations that this particular group of FCC employees and consultants came up with. Before any real regulatory requirements can come out of this, in most cases, the FCC must first adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or a series of such notices, and ask for public comment on these proposals. That may take some time, if there is action on these suggestions at all. There are some proposals, however, such as the suggestion that certain LPFM rules be adopted in the FCC’s review of the Local Community Radio Act so as to find availability for LPFM stations in urban areas, that could be handled as part of some proceedings that are already underway.
Is the release of the long-awaited Future of Media Report at hand? Since January 2010, the FCC has been studying the Future of Media, a study conducted by a Special Advisor to the FCC Chairman who was appointed in November 2009. The study was to provide important research and analysis of how broadcasting and other…
On February 8, 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. While the Act had significant impact throughout the communications industry, the impact on broadcasters was profound, and is still being debated. The Act made changes for broadcasters in several major areas:
- Lengthened license renewals to 8 years for both radio and TV, and eliminated the "comparative renewal"
- For radio, eliminated all national caps on the number of radio stations in which one party could have an attributable interest and increased to 8 stations the number one party could own in the largest radio markets
- For television, raised national ownership caps to having stations that reached no more than 35% of the national audience, with no limits on the number of stations that could be owned as long as their reach was under that cap.
- Allocated spectrum that resulted in the DTV transition
Obviously, the DTV spectrum began the profound changes in the way television is broadcast, and led to the current debate as to whether over-the-air television should be further cut back in order to promote wireless broadband (see our recent post on the FCC’s current proceeding on this issue). While the other changes have now been in effect for 15 years, the debate over these provisions continue. Some argue that the renewal and ownership modifications have created too much consolidation in the broadcast media and lessened the broadcaster’s commitment to serving the public interest. Others argue that, in the current media world, these changes don’t go far enough. Broadcasters are under attack from many directions, as new competitors fight for local audiences (often with minimally regulated multi-channel platforms, such as those delivered over the Internet) and others attack broadcasters principal financial support – their advertising revenue. Even local advertising dollars, traditionally fought over by broadcasters and newspapers (with some competition from billboards, direct mail and local cable), is now under assault from services such as Groupon and Living Social, and from other new media competitors of all sorts. With the debated continuing on these issues in the current day, it might be worth a few looking back at the 1996 changes for broadcasters, and their impact on the current broadcast policy debate.