The former FCC chairman says don’t expect any easing of ownership restrictions by a new FCC or Congress. He also sees no return of the fairness doctrine and less emphasis on indecency regulation.
High-powered communication attorney/lobbyist Dick Wiley believes that neither the Democratic Congress nor the soon-to-be reconstituted Democratic FCC is likely to provide broadcasters with any relief from ownership restrictions.
But Wiley said he hopes that the incoming FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will be “pragmatic” enough to recognize that there is no need to load up broadcasters with new regulations aimed at increasing “localism.”
Wiley, a former FCC chairman, was speaking Wednesday at the Winning Media Strategies conference sponsored by BIAfn in Washington.
According to Wiley, FCC has already tentatively concluded that stations must offer minimum amounts of local programming, organize community advisory boards, locate their main studios within their communities of license and make detailed reports on what public affairs programming they aired.
“None of that is necessary,” he said. “It is all counterproductive.”
“Broadcasters must — and actually do — serve their local communities in order to survive,” Wiley said. “That is their raison d’être. That’s their absolute assignment and it makes them different than any other industry.”
That broadcasters, particularly those in small markets, have little chance for ownership relief is unfortunate, Wiley added.
“For years and years and years, some of us have been hoping that the commission and the courts and Congress would understand that broadcasting is not the center of the universe anymore. … It’s competing as a one-channel free service increasingly in a multichannel, subscription-oriented universe.”
President Obama has nominated Genachowski to become the next FCC chairman and according to Wiley, Genachowski will lead a commission that will include two other Democrats — Michael Copps, now acting chairman, and fellow nominee Mignon Clyburn, now a public service commission member in South Carolina.
Who will be the FCC’s two Republican minority members is still unclear, he said.
Former National Telecommunications and Information Administration head Meredith Baker is the “leading candidate” to fill the current Republican vacancy.
Wiley said that Obama, in collaboration with the Republican leadership on the Hill, may reappoint sitting Republican Robert McDowell or look elsewhere to fill the final seat.
McDowell has earned another term, Wiley said, calling him a well-known, free-market advocate. “We’ll have to see how that works out.”
Wiley said the fairness doctrine is not coming back. To his credit, Wiley said, Acting Chairman Copps said the FCC would not try to resurrect it “and the president has said the same thing.”
Wiley also predicted a lighter touch on indecency regulation at the Democratic FCC and said that suits him.”We ought to go back to the middle ground: Broadcasters self-regulate and the FCC has a restrained formed of regulation.”
The big event on the broadcast regulatory calendar remains June 12 — the day that the TV stations that have not already done so turn off their analog simulcast signals and transform broadcasting into a purely digital medium.
The transition will not be painless, Wiley said. Despite the best efforts of industry and government, many, particularly low income people and non-English speakers, will not be ready with digital receivers and the necessary antennas on June 13 and will lose service.
The solution will be to try to identify those people and get them help as quickly as we can, he said.
Wiley said the big improvement wrought by digital TV has been HDTV.
He said he was concerned that broadcasters may compress their HD signals too much to make room for ancillary services and impair the “really great experience of watching” HD.
But he also expressed hope that advancements in compression technology would continue to evolve to where TV stations could deliver high-quality HD as well as SD multicasting, subscription TV, interactive and data services as well as mobile services.
Wiley said he believes that mobile is the “most important new application” for DTV. The new standard allows broadcasters to deliver programming to mobile devices in real-time or in non-real-time. The non-real-time applications — downloading of content for later playback — is made possible by improvements in storage technology, he said.
“I think this is going to be a great new business for broadcasters.”
“We are getting to consumers wherever and whenever they want it. And … for younger people that is very important.”