The President has nominated Thomas Wheeler as the next FCC Chairman, to become effective after confirmation by the US Senate. What does this mean for broadcasters? As we have said before, one never really knows what issues will drive a Chairman’s agenda. For this Chair, some issues are clear – like dealing with the incentive auction to reclaim some TV spectrum for wireless use, which is inevitably marching forward. Other issues are forced on the FCC – like dealing with the indecency issues still pending after Supreme Court remand, or the multiple ownership quadrennial review still pending at the Commission while waiting for the MMTC study on the effects of media cross ownership on the ability of minorities and other new entrants to get into broadcast ownership. And some are issues that for one reason or another capture the interest or attention or concern of the FCC Chair. Usually, these issues don’t become clear until after the Chairman assumes his position, but that has not stopped many in Washington from speculating what the new Chairman will do once he is confirmed.

Interestingly, the speculation ranges the gamut, from Free Press fearing that he will be too friendly to big business because of his past service as the head of two trade associations – NCTA (the cable television industry trade association) and CTIA (the wireless industry association), to the statement of Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, fearing that he will impose too many regulations on these same big business organizations. In short, the perspective on the nomination seems to be based, at least in part, on the initial perspective of those who muse about what it means.


Continue Reading The President Nominates Tom Wheeler to Chair the FCC – What Will It Mean for Broadcasters?

The press was abuzz yesterday with the news that Julius Genachowski is apparently the pick of the Obama Administration for the position of FCC Chairman.  Mr. Genachowski was at the FCC during the Reed Hundt Administration, and has since worked in the private sector in the telecommunications industry, including work with Barry Diller and running a DC-based venture capital fund.  From the positive reactions that the appointment has received from all quarters, the choice would seem to be a great one.  But, in looking at some of the reactions, you have to question whether everyone has to be reading what they want to see into the new Commission.  For instance, while the NAB has praised the choice of Genachowski (stating  that he "has a keen intellect, a passion for public service, and a deep understanding of the important role that free and local broadcasting plays in American life"), so too did media-reform organization Free Press ("This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need.")  What will this appointment really mean for broadcasters?

In short – who knows?  When Kevin Martin was appointed Chairman of the FCC, few would have imagined that a former communications attorney, a person deeply involved in the Bush campaign, and a former staffer of FCC Commissioner Harold Furtchgott-Roth (perhaps the most free market Commissioner ever) would have supported sustained, wide-reaching inquiries into the underbrush of FCC regulation – e.g. localism, embedded advertising, indecency.  So we can’t really know what a Chairman will do until he does it.  The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal both suggest that the new chairman will be focused on Internet issues, and may be less interested in indecency – but who knows?


Continue Reading Julius Genachowski as New FCC Chair – What Will It Mean to Broadcasting’s Future?