Commentary By Steve Effros
This is one of the most predictable times of the year here in Washington. Most of the decision-makers are gone, the staffs are trying to catch up on the various piles of work that have accumulated over the past few months while still leaving early and taking Fridays (and sometimes Mondays) off. And anything you want to "bury" before all the spotlights come back on in September gets a quick send-off. It’s no mystery why both Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzalez chose the hot hazy days of August in Washington to announce their departures. They are simply following a long-standing practice of looking for the slowest news month to try to avoid notice. Of course in their cases they are a little too high profile to accomplish that. But for most of the rest of Washington, this is the ideal time to both slack off and deal with things you don’t particularly want noticed. That means you should read any new rulemaking announcements, policy guidelines and the like coming out around this time with great care. Our friends over at the FCC are no different from the rest of the folks here in DC. They do the same sort of "house cleaning" when they hope no one is watching. This isn’t unique to the present administration, either. By reading and listening closely to the "throw-aways" that are launched in August you can get a pretty good sense of where the focus is likely to be for the next several months. So what’s on tap? Well, we are still hearing the Chairman talk a lot about a la carte any time he gets the chance. He has now had the concept included in a new proceeding looking at the question of program access rules. Nevermind that a majority of Commissioners have already indicated they don’t think the FCC has current authority to require anything as industry-altering as a la carte. Constantly raising the issue is meant not to necessarily regulate, but to maintain the pressure on the cable industry. It is very clear we are not going to get a friendly reception on anything else with this Chairman until the a la carte demand is met. The problem with that, of course, is that the industry can’t meet that demand, so the stalemate continues. We can also look forward to a lot more hand-wringing, saber rattling and demands for action regarding the "DTV Transition" when the powers that be get back in September. I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next few columns. Suffice it to say that the fundamental question has to be: whose "transition" is this? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the cable industry’s! You would be hard pressed to know that by listening to the comments being made these days. The auctions of the "beachfront" spectrum being reclaimed by the government as a result of the DTV transition are also going to take up a lot of time and attention. We’re talking about real money here. Billions. The jockeying over the auction rules has been going on for months. Of course, the decision as to how they would be conducted waited for the hot Washington summer to be announced. Rest assured there will be lots of back and forth on that when folks revive in the fall. All in all, the end of August really should be a time we just take off and ignore all this stuff. You do so, however, at your own peril.

The Daily


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