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TV Awaits New FCC Approach

Mar 8, 2009  •  Post A Comment

While technology issues may sit at the top of the to-do list for Julius Genachowski, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Federal Communications Commission, he may be compelled to delve into the world of television before the ink on his business cards dries.
Several people who know Mr. Genachowski say that once the new chairman is confirmed, it will be Internet issues—both the broadband rollout anticipated in the president’s stimulus plan and the debate over whether all Web users should have an equally speedy Internet (so-called net neutrality) that will likely get the chairman’s attention first.
“I would imagine his top priority will be broadband deployment,” said Andy Schwartzman, executive director of the Media Access Project, a public-interest law firm.
Mr. Genachowski didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Broadcast lobbyists and their lawyers may not be sanguine at the prospect of having their issues deferred for now, but they point out that new developments could push their agenda to the front burner.
“There are things out there that could happen,” said Dick Wiley, a former FCC chairman who is a lead partner in Wiley Rein, a Washington communications firm. He pointed to pending legal decisions on indecency and media ownership in the Supreme Court and an appellate court.
Mr. Wiley said some of the FCC proceedings started under former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, including one on how much local content is aired by TV stations, also could offer the new chairman some opportunities to act.
Chris Murray, a counsel to Consumers Union, said the need for the FCC to move forward to clean up a backload of license renewals also could force some quick moves in the broadcast arena.
Mr. Genachowski, who still needs Senate confirmation, will arrive with an unusually explicit list of issues and with some friends in high places. That will potentially give him the political clout to carry out an ambitious agenda. Confirmation hearings had yet to be set last week.
Mr. Genachowski, 46, is a close friend of the president; the two have known each other since their Harvard Law School days.
The Obama campaign’s Technology and Innovation Plan now is incorporated in President Obama’s agenda as listed on the White House Web site and it includes a number of FCC-related initiatives.
It calls for deploying a “next-generation” broadband, protecting the egalitarianism of the Internet through net neutrality and giving parents more tools to protect their kids from indecent content on TV. It also calls for stepped-up privacy protections, which could become an issue if media companies try too hard to target viewers with personal ads.
The plan also suggests government agencies should be more transparent and accountable in their technology. The oft-criticized FCC Web site, which some say is difficult to navigate and search, is expected to be quickly revamped by Mr. Genachowski.
One section of the plan may provide the biggest tipoff of where Mr. Genachowski will head on media issues. The plan calls for encouraging diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promoting the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarifying the public-interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.
Frederick Joyce, who heads up the communications practice at the Venable law firm, predicts that policy goal will more likely play out in the bully pulpit than in actual regulation, and predicted Mr. Genachowski is likely to use license renewals and perhaps speeches to push broadcasters to provide more local content.
“He has a businessman’s sense that now is not the time to impose new financial burdens,” Mr. Joyce said.
President Obama’s selection of Mr. Genachowski will give the FCC one of its more experienced chairmen.
Mr. Genachowski, who was a chief counselor for former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, became an executive for Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp before being an investor and technology strategist as co-founder and managing director of LaunchBox Digital and Rock Creek Ventures.

11 Comments

  1. Leased Access programmers already produce mostly localized television content. If the new chairman will help get the new rules for leased access adopted in Nov. 2007 and ‘stayed’ by opposition from the cable industry, local television content can be expected to explode.
    Leased access, although created by Congress, is crying for FCC attention to insure those using it get the full intent of the law.
    Hopefully the new chairman will put this on his agenda.

  2. We must have a development of Public Access and non-profit broadcasting—this to be financed by commercial broadcasters for access to the public airwaves that has too long been a boondoggle give- away for the big telecom corporations —only this will democratize the TV content and provide broader parameters of truth on the publicly-owned air waves–as well as breaking the domination of a ccmmercially-driven ideological content. This has amounted to a propaganda system of corporate ideology which has driven a jingoistic militarism on the dominant mass broadcasting. All of this has fed the profits of munitions makers and bankrupted the U.S. economy and led to great destruction and killing around the world. Rev. Paul Sawyer, Chair of Nedia Democracy Legal Project
    Net neutrality on the internet is spitting in the ocean compared to this mass propaganda system that put Pravda to shame in comparison.

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