Policy

Former FCC Chair Says Broadcasters Need Dereg Help

Wiley Tells Hudson Institute Audience that Broadcasters are One-Channel Service in Multichannel World 2/19/2013 11:39 AM Eastern

Former FCC chairman and Wiley Rein partner Dick Wiley said Tuesday that as primarily a one-channel service in a multichannel universe, broadcasters need some deregulatory help from the FCC.

That came at a Hudson Institute forum on the once and future FCC. He was being interviewed by former FCC commissioner and Hudson senior fellow Harold Furchtgott-Roth.

Wiley said he understood the FCC's focus on broadband, rather than broadcasting, but also said that broadcasting remained an important service that needs both a change to local ownership and cross-ownership limits, and preferably no change to retransmission consent rules he says are working.

Wiley provided the caveat that he represents a number of broadcasters, but he had a host of caveats given that the firm of the recognized dean of communications lawyers has also represented Comcast and Verizon and AT&T and the veritable host of others.

Wiley noted that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has not been particularly forces on media ownership and said he wasn't sure the commission would be wrapping up its proceeding reviewing the rules anytime soon, though he suggested it would need to find closure on the overdue 2010 quadrennial rule review mandate by Congress since the 2014 version was fast approaching.

But Wiley did not put the blame on the chairman for the delay as much for what he said was a combination of factors. Those included that the regulatory wheels grind slow no matter who is doing the grinding and that media ownership engenders such controversy, and congressional pushback, that it's almost impossible to get the changes made.

That said, he argued they needed to be made. It was the Wiley FCC that approved the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership -- Genachowski has proposed loosening the ban. Wiley, who would like to see the ban go away period, said that when the ban was adopted [in the mid-1970s], they were afraid of newspapers becoming too dominant. That, he pointed out, was obviously not the case and the rule was outmoded.

He said he thought it was a problem that the country had relatively low minority ownership of broadcast stations, but that the answer was boost access to capital through incubator programs or tax certificates. It is the impact of any media ownership rule changes on minority ownership that have held up the FCC's review of the rules.

Wiley said that broadcasting remained primarily a one-channel service in a multichannel world, which is why it needed deregulatory help, and why it needed to maintain the dual revenue stream it had gotten by negotiating retransmission consent payments for carriage rather than bartering for co-owned cable channels like MSNBC or FX. He also said that he didn't think broadcasters were getting full value for their channels, and complaints about the rising cost of cable programming belonged more at the doorstep of sports programming than TV stations, which he said were a relatively small piece of the puzzle. While he said he thought retrans should be left alone, he said he also expected it to be challenged as part of the debate over reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which expires at the end of next year.

He said the FCC would need to weigh in on the definition of a multichannel video provider so it could settle what the carriage obligations were for over-the-top providers. In essence, he said, online video providers were a forced to be reckoned with, and the FCC would need to reckon with them sooner than later.

Wiley, who helped develop HDTV transmission standard, suggested that it was time to start thinking about a next-generation digital transmission standard for the mobile, TV everywhere media world. He said such a standard would most likely not materialize for a decade or so given that it would not be backward compatible, so would require new TV receivers. He said any sooner -- some have predicted a new standard this decade -- would be too soon to disrupt TV viewing habits, but that when people see ultrahigh definition TV, they will likely want it.

September