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Briefly Noted

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Victory for cable in pole-attachment case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to set pole-attachment rates for cable-delivered broadband service. The fees govern attachment of cable service wires to utility poles. The decision is a victory for cable, which faced a multitude of high fees in 31 states that would have set the rates instead. The ruling only affects states where the FCC now sets pole rates for the cable business. The remaining 19 states set rates on their own and are not impacted by the decision. Utility companies had argued that the FCC has no authority to set pole rates for cable broadband, but the court disagreed, concluding that all cable offerings-whether video or not-are subject to FCC rate setting. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which hailed the decision, said cable customers in the 31 states would have faced additional charges of about $1.50 each per month.
Good Copps, bad Copps recognition
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps announced plans last week to encourage broadcasters to clean up their act by periodically publicizing what he sees as the industry’s good and bad citizens. “I want to … highlight those folks who are reaching for the stars and maybe also speak out a little bit about those who are more intent on plumbing the depths of programming,” said Mr. Copps in an interview. Mr. Copps didn’t single out any bad players directly, but in an indirect swipe at the Peacock Network, he heartily commended CBS for recently refusing to follow NBC’s controversial decision to break a long-time industry taboo against carrying hard-liquor ads.
He also said he was heartened to learn recently that Walt Disney Co. chief Michael Eisner had committed ABC radio stations to keeping recordings or transcripts of all of their programming to make it easier for the Federal Communications Commission to check indecency complaints. That’s a record-keeping concept the commissioner has been promoting.
Mr. Copps, the agency’s lone Democrat, said he also plans to continue encouraging broadcasters to adopt a code of conduct to police industry practices on their own. He also made it clear that he believes there are problems with the content of radio and TV programming. “What we’re seeing is too often a race for the bottom. The solution is for the industry to do something about the concerns being expressed by the American people. I’m convinced that the overwhelming majority of Americans are convinced they can be entertained adequately and informed well several notches above the quality of programming that we are presently getting.”
South Koreans tangle over digital TV standard
A coalition of South Korean broadcasters and engineers last week urged their government to reconsider its decision to endorse ATSC/8VSB, the United States’ digital television standard-after recent field tests by the coalition showed that DVB-T/COFDM, another leading system, appeared to be better. In its letter to the South Korean government, the coalition-whose members include Korea’s Mun Hwa Broadcasting Co. (MBC) and the Korea Broadcast Engineer and Technician’s Association-complained that South Korea, like the United States, adopted ATSC/8VSB without first comparing how it stacked up against DVB-T/COFDM. Among the coalition study’s key findings is that COFDM is better for delivering signals into urban areas, with anywhere from a 89.8 percent to 90.9 percent success rate, depending on the data rate and using a 12-foot antenna, compared with 70.5 percent success for 8VSB. Indoors, COFDM signals were successfully received at anywhere from 71 percent to 77.4 percent of sites, again depending on the data rate, using a nondirectional antenna, compared with 51.6 percent for 8VSB.
Digitizing NBC, GE businesses to save billions
General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt says his company will save at least another $1.2 billion in costs this year and as much as $10 billion over the next 10 years from digitization of its subsidiaries, including NBC. NBC reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, with $460 million in operating income due to aggressive cost cutting (down from $476 million in operating income the fourth quarter of 2002) on flat fourth-quarter revenues of $1.54 billion. For the full year 2002, NBC reported $1.6 billion in profits (down 11 percent from $1.8 billion in 2000) on $5.8 billion in revenues (down 15 percent from $6.8 billion the earlier year). In an interview on CNBC last Thursday, Mr. Immelt said he does not believe NBC needs to acquire more content and distribution to remain competitive, but it will remain acquisitive. “I view NBC as an asset we can invest in and grow,” he said.
Vivendi-EchoStar deal gets FTC approval
The Federal Trade Commission approved Vivendi Universal’s $1.5 billion investment in EchoStar Communications last week after conducting a brief review and concluding that the deal poses no anticompetitive problems. No conditions were imposed on the investment, which gives the French media giant a content and distribution footprint in the United States. The agency completed its review within 30 days. In a separate transaction, Vivendi has a $12 billion deal pending with Barry Diller’s USA Networks.