Congress, several courts, media moguls and some members of the Federal Communications Commission may still be wrestling with the controversial media ownership rules that were voted on in June, but FCC Chairman Michael Powell is moving on. No, he’s not leaving — he’s just leaving this issue for now. Last week, Powell unveiled a rather ambitious agenda for someone who’s been called a lame duck. In addition to having the FCC uphold the do-not-call list, facing down two federal rulings against it, several of the top issues he intends to conclude this fall will impact the success of the digital transition and the always testy relationship between cable and broadcasters. “Yes, we will have must-carry in your time,” he told reporters, adding, “we are going to do it this fall.” The cable industry opposes dual must-carry on the basis that it gives broadcasters too much of a competitive edge. In October, Powell said, the agency will finally tackle the broadcast flag, which networks have demanded to protect digital transmissions from being copied and resent via the Internet. Surprisingly, Powell said the FCC would revisit the Net Neutrality issue — the idea of cable ISPs as gatekeepers — which was raised by a coalition of Microsoft Corp., Walt Disney Co., and others. The coalition alleges that cable and other broadband operators would play favorites with content providers to the detriment of competitors. “The bottom line is that there is a serious set of anxieties out there,” Powell said. Noticeably absent from the lengthy list was the raising of cable ownership caps. That item was supposed to have been voted on by the FCC’s five members last January, but other things, such as the backlash against the broadcast ownership rules, intervened. Asked about it, Powell mused, “Oh yes, cable caps…” He said it was not at the top of the list, adding that the record of info on this matter is “thin.” Andrew Schwartzman, director of the Media Access Project, said, “It drives us crazy when Powell says the record is thin. They just don’t like the record we gave them. This wait is disgraceful and irresponsible.” However, consumer groups can hardly complain to the D.C. Circuit Court that the FCC is late, because the D.C. Appeals Court has been notoriously hostile to ownership cap regulations in general and to the consumer groups’ arguments favoring them. If cable folks are worried about ramifications of some of Powell’s agenda, they aren’t alone. Powell announced upcoming hearings (in cities to be named shortly) on whether local broadcasters are committed to localism. He noted that this would tie into reviews of license renewals for TV and radio stations and whether renewals need more scrutiny, which has been sought by Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps and consumer groups.

The Daily


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