What’s standing in the way of drones for news isn’t the aerial technology, the cameras, the uplinks, downlinks or the operators; what’s standing in the way is the Federal Aviation Administration and the byzantine rulemaking process endemic to Washington. Congress, meanwhile, is putting a lot of pressure on the FAA to get commercial drones in the air, fearing that the U.S. will find itself behind the technology drone curve compared to European countries. The FAA put out a notice of proposed rulemaking in February that will simplify the process of getting news drones in the air.
Stepping out from behind the podium in a symbolic gesture of breaking down barriers with a tough audience, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler used his NAB Show keynote speech to return to now-familiar themes to convince broadcasters that the auction was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He addressed some of the broadcasters’ questions, but not all of them, leaving the biggest concerns about the auction at home in Washington.
The massive $325,000 indecency fine levied on the Schurz Communications CBS affiliate in Roanoke, Va., puzzles an NAB Show panel. The infraction was fleeting, it was a fraction of the screen, it was news and most importantly, it was a mistake,” said attorney Dennis Corbett. In addition, the ruling did nothing to clarify the commission’s stated goal of going after only “egregious” indecency cases.
Estimates of the cost of the TV band repack following the FCC’s incentive auction next year range from $250 million to $1.25 billion more than the $1.75 billion the government has set aside.
“I come with a bit of a different approach. I think about prevention, and not just enforcement,” says FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. He argues that his approach should be better for the industry. “We’re moving faster, we’re not holding up renewals — there’s certainty. It’s a much better world than it was a few years ago.”
At a Monday NAB Show panel on how — and whether — to regulate online video, there was no consensus. Broadcasters are on different sides of the issue, with affiliates favoring reclassifying some online linear video as MVPDs and network owners opposing the move. And online video services also disagree about what the FCC should do.
That’s just one of the proposals Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly has for his colleagues. He’s also got five plans to lighten the regulatory load on broadcasters.
The NAB is “comfortable” with the FCC’s current formula for calculating the opening bids it will use to entice broadcasters to sell spectrum in a reverse auction so that it can resell it to wireless carriers in a conventional forward auction. “It’s important for us to get the entire auction right, not just this one issue,” says NAB’s Rick Kaplan. Among other things, the NAB has to make sure non-selling broadcasters are not harmed in the repacking of the TV band that will follow the auction.
Taking on updating the nation’s communications laws, last revised in 1996, is a gargantuan undertaking, one that has drawn bipartisan support in Congress, at least on the broad strokes. Topping the list of issues that have broadcasters nervous are a major update of the Communications Act and FCC actions, including next year’s incentive auction.
NAB President Gordon Smith opened the group’s annual gathering with a list of priorities that included FCC ownership rules, the threat to the “retransmission consent process” posed by the cable TV industry and the FCC’s management of the upcoming incentive auction. He also declared that local broadcasting is “more important today than [it] has ever been,” particularly when it comes to providing news and information that is relevant to their communities.