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

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?

As the Obama administration fills its top level government posts, all eyes are now turning to the next levels of government appointments which, at some point, will include a new Chair of the FCC and potentially other new FCC Commissioners. We wrote about our hopes for an Obama administration at the FCC immediately after the election, and now other voices in Washington are weighing in. And, as one might expect, with so many different perspectives, the advice is far from consistent. As we wrote in our analysis, the appointment of the FCC Chair is crucial as it is the FCC Chair, far more than the President or the White House, who sets the tone for Communications policy. This is made clear by the extensive regulations either adopted or proposed for broadcasters by the current Republican FCC, seemingly at the direction of the current chairman, regulations that would not have been expected from a Republican administration.  In light of the economic challenges facing broadcasters, as evidenced by today’s news that two television companies – Tribune and Equity – declared bankruptcy, and another, NBC, has announced a cut back in prime time programming, replacing it with a prime time, 5 day a week Jay Leno program. 

So what should the transition team look to accomplish at the FCC?  In one of the most perceptive articles that I’ve seen recently, Harry Jessell in TV Newsday has urged the new Commission to simply do nothing on broadcast regulation for the next year. The current state of the economy and its ramifications for the advertising that is the lifeblood of the broadcast industry simply leaves no room for broadcasters to have to bear new costs for new regulations.  Broadcasting and Cable magazine has echoed that sentiment last week.  Recently, not only have we seen the economy and the state of the broadcast industry been reflected by the actions announced by Tribune, Equity and NBC today, but we’ve seen numerous mainstream press articles about the economic peril in which the entire broadcast industry finds itself.  In one recent article, radio’s dramatic decline in revenues was highlighted, even as the industry’s listenership remains high (as confirmed by BIA’s recent prediction that radio revenues will decline by 7% in the coming year, coming after declines this year – perhaps the first two year decline in revenues in radio history). I recently attended the Radio Ink Forecast 2009 conference in New York.   While the conference is off the record, I don’t think that I’d be betraying any confidences to state that there was much concern about the short term health of the radio industry. 


Continue Reading As the FCC Transition Progresses, The Broadcast Industry Shows Economic Strains – Tribune and Equity Declare Bankruptcy and NBC Cuts Programming Costs By Putting Leno on at 10 PM, Five Days A Week