New Term, New Hill, New FCC?


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The reelection of President Obama has set into motion several different, but connected, changes in Washington. Typically, a second-term administration experiences a large turn-over with its appointments, and there is a limited period of time for legislating before all eyes turn to the next presidential campaign. In light of these changes, below is a discussion of what we can expect from the Beltway in the near term.

New FCC Chairman: It is very likely we will see Chairman Julius Genachowski indicate his intention to leave the FCC in the next few months. There have been a growing number of rumors regarding his departure, and there are several likely candidates from outside the FCC. One of the leading candidates is the current head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Larry Strickling. Both Genechowski and Strickling worked on the President's first campaign, and helped shape the administration's technology agenda. Another possible selection is Karen Kornbluh, a current administration official, and a former FCC staffer. Other possible selections are former Commissioner Susan Ness, and Blair Levin, a primary author of the National Broadband Plan.

Major FCC Broadcast Actions: While we can expect a turnover in the chairman's position, the current chairman has already set a tight agenda in the near future. Driving the FCC's agenda will be drawing up the final rules for the Incentive Auctions for the television spectrum to be held in 2014. The FCC was authorized by Congress last year to share in auction revenue with television broadcasters who voluntarily turn in their license to be repurposed for wireless broadband use. As one can imagine, the devil is in the details, and the FCC just received the first round of comments on its proposed structure in late January.

Major FCC Broadcast Actions: While we can expect a turnover in the chairman's position, the current chairman has already set a tight agenda in the near future. Driving the FCC's agenda will be drawing up the final rules for the Incentive Auctions for the television spectrum to be held in 2014. The FCC was authorized by Congress last year to share in auction revenue with television broadcasters who voluntarily turn in their license to be repurposed for wireless broadband use. As one can imagine, the devil is in the details, and the FCC just received the first round of comments on its proposed structure in late January.

Another major action expected for treatment is the reform of the media ownership rules. It is possible that both the radio and television local multiple ownership rules will be adopted, with special focus on the contractual relationships between television stations that are intended to avoid attribution, i.e., joint sales agreements and shared services agreements. These agreements have not previously been attributable for television stations, and the FCC made it known at the end of last year that it was proposing to sunset all such arrangements within two years. The resulting hue and cry caused the FCC to stand down from adopting the rules in December, and, depending on what occurs with the turnover at the top of the FCC, may not proceed in the near future.

New Hill: The recent election also introduced new members of Congress to both the Senate and House committees with jurisdiction over the FCC, although the leadership of committees will remain the same. With the recent tragedy in Connecticut, the Senate has announced an inquiry into violent content in video games and video programming, which may affect television broadcasters. The NAB is also pushing legislation to require the activation of FM chips in mobile phones. There are also rumblings that an overhaul of the Communications Act is in order, with focus on net neutrality, television carriage issues, and the promotion of broadband access.

Needless to say, there will continue to be many jugglers, trying to keep the balls in the air. We'll keep our eyes on the ball for you.


FCC Dateline

FCC map

Feb. 16, 2013: Stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma continue running License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements, continuing March 1 and 16. Stations in Texas continue running License Renewal Pre-Filing Announcements, continuing March 1 and 16.


Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Email: lee.petro@dbr.com.




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