John Eggerton

NAB’s Smith: FCC Myopically Focused on Broadband

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith says the Federal Communications Commission is "myopically focused" on broadband and getting broadcaster spectrum into the hands of wireless companies, when those companies cannot match the reliability of broadcasting to get critical info "to the masses."

In a speech to the Advanced Television Systems Committee convention in Washington, Smith said the irony was that in the hands of wireless companies, the spectrum could not deliver video as efficiently as broadcasters, and would be charging viewers for a service broadcasters deliver to them for free.

"The focus of the FCC shouldn't be how can spectrum be taken away from broadcasters in order to bolster the wireless industry's goal of developing an architecture with the reach and reliability of ours, but rather, how can we continue to expand broadcasting's robust and efficient architecture to other platforms," he said.

Dish, DirecTV Back STELA Compromise

Satellite companies Dish and DirecTV said they support a compromise struck by House Commerce Committee members on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act and urged swift passage.

The bipartisan bill, which is expected to pass in the upcoming markup, does a number of things, including at its heart renewing the compulsory license that allows those operators to deliver distant TV station signals to 1.5 million subs who don't get a local over-the-air version in their market.

Another major element is preventing coordinated retransmission consent negotiations by broadcasters.

New America: Incentive Auction Bidding Limits Are Pro-Competition

The New America Foundation hosted a briefing in Washington in which it argued that the Federal Communications Commission has the authority and duty to set spectrum limits on wireless carriers in order to "ensure that the upcoming broadcast incentive auction maximizes competition and innovation in the wireless industry."

Carriers and public interest groups assembled for the pitch on competitive auctions said that aggregation limits were necessary and appropriate.

Michael Calabrese, who directs the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute, said that the FCC's proposal to set aside some low-band spectrum for carriers who don't have at least a third of the low band spectrum in a market was hardly a severe limitation on participation in the auction and that AT&T and Verizon were looking to foreclose competition.

Chip Pickering, president of COMPTEL, evoked one of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's favorites, Abe Lincoln, in saying that score years ago competitive auctions were created and have since spurred investment and innovation and should not be allowed to perish from the earth by duopolists looking to foreclose that competition.

NAB to FCC On LPTVs: Attention Must Be Paid

The National Association of Broadcasters has joined with the National Religious Broadcasters and others to back low-power TV and translator advocates concerned about their future after broadcast incentive auctions.

LPTVs are essentially second-class citizens in the auction, with no interference protections, a point made to the Federal Communications Commission by the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance (one of the aforementioned "others"), which said it took issue with that secondary status.

In the combined filing to the FCC, the broadcasters urged the commission to do everything it could to preserve the benefits of both LPTVs and translators and insure they are not undermined by the auction. LPTVs and translators often provide the kind of diverse programming the FCC has said it wants to encourage, are ownership opportunities for minorities, another FCC priority, and can be the only access to free TV for some viewers in hard-to-reach areas, the groups said, all values the FCC has acknowledged and even highlighted.

ACA to Hill: Comcast/TWC Deal Threatens Competition

American Cable Association President Matthew Polka plans to tell the House Judiciary Committee that Comcast's proposed $69 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, and its proposed system spin-off/trade with Charter, will result in a multitude of anticompetitive harms and needs a bunch of fixes if it is to be approved.

Polka is among the witnesses at an oversight hearing on the deal on May 8.

"To put it mildly, the Comcast-TWC transaction is a “big deal” that threatens consumers and competition, likely resulting in higher prices for consumers," he says, according to his prepared testimony.

"As I will discuss, there is more than sufficient evidence already to demonstrate that the proposed transaction will result in significant anticompetitive harms in many ways. ACA is concerned about Comcast as both an MVPD -- the nation's largest --and as a programmer with regionals sports nets (RSNs), cable nets -- USA, Golf, Syfy, Bravo, E!, MSNBC -- as well as TWC as a cable operator with RSNs.

It argues that gives the deal both vertical and horizontal elements and creates potential harms from the combination of the two company's programming assets; from the combination of Comcast's programming assets with distribution assets from TWC and Charter; and from the combination of Comcast's distribution assets with those of TWC and Charter.

FCC Protests Over Net Neutrality Rule Planned

Civil disobedience Web site was calling for picketers to meet at the Federal Communications Commission from noon to 5 p.m. to protest what they said was FCC Chairman Wheeler's effort to end network neutrality, with a rally at 5 p.m.

Appearing in a YouTube video, Sen Al Franken (D-MN) said that net neutrality is "under threat as it never has been" because he says Chairman Wheeler's new rule proposal would "permit a fast lane for content providers who are willing and able to pay for it."

He said that would mean big corporations would be even more dominant over mom and pop stores and that "big media companies will be able to get their version of the news to consumers faster." Sen Franken said it was time to rise up and save net neutrality so that it would not be taken away.

Polka: Viacom's 'Retaliatory' Web Move Raises Openness Issues

American Cable Association President Matt Polka says Viacom's denial of access to its websites by broadband Internet subscribers of Cable One and others is a violation of Internet openness that should raise warning flags in Washington.

Cable One dropped 15 cable networks April 1, and Viacom then decided that its programming would "no longer be available to Cable One customers in any form." Polka said that broadband Internet customers of both Cable One and Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico are being denied access to Viacom websites, including customers who have cut the cord on traditional video.

“Viacom’s actions are a flagrant attack on Internet openness and a textbook replay of the vengeful action CBS took against Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks broadband customers during their well-documented retransmission consent dispute last August," said Polka. “All who care about ensuring access to content on the Internet should be outraged that Viacom is selectively blocking access to its public websites by broadband Internet subscribers served by smaller cable companies."

Legislators Seek USF Support For Broadband-Only Subscribers

Nearly 50 senators from both parties have called on the Federal Communications Commission to reform the Universal Service Fund so that it supports broadband-only service in rural areas.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the 44 legislators, led by Sen John Thune (R-SD), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, and Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said that if the FCC does not make the change, it would lead to less choice and support for rural consumers.

The FCC is migrating USF support from traditional telephone to broadband as part of its revamp of USF, and the senators point to that USF goal of increasing broadband adoption. Currently, they point out, a smaller, rate-of-return carrier is eligible for support if a rural consumer buys phone service, whether or not they take broadband, but carriers don't get USF money for broadband, only rural subs.

Moonves Pitches FCC's Wheeler On Maintaining Retransmission Regime

On the eve of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, CBS president and CEO Les Moonves stopped by the Federal Communications Commission to meet with Chairman Tom Wheeler about a variety of issues, including why the FCC should not tinker with retransmission.

According to an ex parte notice submitted by CBS lawyers, Moonves, who has led CBS' aggressive charge to charge cable operators for its high-value content, urged the chairman to "maintain the current regime." He argued that the retransmission second revenue stream was critical to CBS' ability to continue to produce sports and entertainment and news.

Chairman Wheeler has tied his retransmission reform efforts, which include disallowing some coordinated negotiations and asking whether syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules should be eliminated, to the size of consumer's cable bills. But Moonves said that given the size of its audience, CBS stations and affiliates "deserve the highest fees they can negotiate in the marketplace."

Supremes To Weigh In On Cell Tower Citing Issue

In a decision that could help ease the way for telecom operators to site their towers and boost broadband service, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a case (T-Mobile South v. Roswell, GA) involving how a city has to justify its denial of a tower-siting permit, a case which has split federal circuits.

T-Mobile had challenged an Eleventh Circuit ruling -- overturning a district court -- that held that the city of Roswell, which had denied a tower placement, only had to notify the operator in writing of the denial and provide access to the administrative record of the decision, but did not have to explain how the decision was made. But various other federal circuits have read the law as requiring the city to provide a decision separate from the administrative record and at least some explanation of the reason for the denial.

That way, if there is a challenge in court, there will be a judicial matter at hand to wheigh whether the evidence supports that reasoning. The Supremes have now agreed to try and resolve that split.