Localism

In exchange for obtaining a valuable license to operate a broadcast station using the public airwaves, each radio and television licensee is required by law to operate its station in the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” This means that it must air programming that is responsive to the needs and problems of its local community of license. In addition, how other media facilitate community discussions.

Sponsor: 

Communications and Technology Subcommittee House Commerce Committee

Date: 
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 10:00 to 14:00

WITNESSES

The Honorable Jonathan Adelstein 
President and CEO, Wireless Infrastructure Association

Dr. Coleman Bazelon 
Principal, The Brattle Group



FCC Defends UHF Discount

The Federal Communications Commission told the DC Circuit Court of Appeals it was reasonable to reinstate the so-called UHF discount in April because it is “inextricably intertwined” with the 39 percent national audience reach limit imposed on broadcasters. Remember, the UHF discount allows broadcasters to count half the reach of UHF TV stations when calculating adherence to that 39 percent limit.

BDAC Chair Provides Status on Committee

I am pleased to report that the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) has made tremendous progress in fulfilling its charter. At the BDAC’s next meeting on November 9, I expect each working group to come ready to present a detailed, substantive work product for the BDAC to consider. I am optimistic that the BDAC will come out of this meeting with some initial recommendations for the FCC as well as a plan to tackle the next phase of its work.

Congress grills Sinclair on 'must-run' content ahead of merger

Members of Congress are pushing Sinclair on the possible effects of its pending merger with Tribune Media, including whether the media company would continue to push controversial "must-run segments." In a letter to the company, 49 members of Congress, led by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), underscored the scale of the deal and pressed Sinclair to explain how its $4 billion merger would benefit Americans.

FCC Announces Plan to Scrap Ownership Limits

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced this week that the commission will vote in November to eliminate or revise four key rules aimed at preserving media diversity in local markets. The changes will come in an order on reconsideration. Although the November 16 vote will end a significant chapter in the ongoing debate over media ownership rules, it is not likely to be the final chapter. As interested parties consider court challenges, we'll bring you all the developments in Headlines.

Sinclair insiders are sounding the alarm about its plans to transform local news

Current and former Sinclair employees, union representatives, and media experts have been speaking out in investigative reports about the damage Sinclair is doing to the public’s trust in local news, from Baltimore to Seattle and most recently in Providence.

A representative of the union representing employees at Sinclair-owned WJAR station in Providence, RI, recently told The Providence Journal that must-runs have “rattled viewers and WJAR’s own news reporters.” The September report also noted that WJAR appears to have made efforts to limit Sinclair’s editorial influence on its newscasts, airing a recent “Bottom Line with Boris” segment after anchors has signed off from the station’s 11 p.m. news broadcast. Media expert Paola Prado warned readers, though, that the length and placement of broadcasts matter far less than the content shown, directly challenging Sinclair’s frequent defense that its must-run segments account for a small fraction of total news time.

What a hurricane tells us about local news

[Commentary] In Houston, local journalists were leading the effort to inform people on the ground, explaining how to get rescued, where to go and what to do. What if they hadn’t been there? Melanie Sills, a former editor at the Raleigh News & Observer, argues that extra effort will have to be made to shore up local reporting in the months to come, from national-local partnerships, public-service journalism and elsewhere, and she’s right. For those who want to find charities to support in the days to come, here’s an idea: Alongside shelters and immediate rescue operations, think about finding a way to support local journalism. You never know when you might need it yourself.

[Applebaum writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for The Washington Post]

Looking at the record of the Sinclair Broadcast Group megamerger

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission has before it the question of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. It is a major decision, since the resulting broadcast behemoth would hold as many as 233 local television stations reaching into more than 70 percent of American homes.

Allegations about the Trump administration’s closeness to Sinclair – including Jared Kushner’s campaign deal – have been made. All I know is what I read, but the lead up to the actual decision has been significant and seems to presage approval. The statutory test for the FCC’s decision – and the only test Congress has instructed the commission to use – is whether the merger is in the “public interest.” The corporate interest of Sinclair is obvious; they may be a politically friendly company, but whether they meet the public interest test is now even being challenged by others of the same political stripe. Not to be lost in the decisionmaking is the statutory rationale behind broadcast licenses in the first place. In the belief that broadcasting is a public trust, broadcast companies have been given use of the public’s airwaves. The key to that public trust is providing news and information to the local community of license, a concept that appears in danger by the one-two punch of the FCC’s elimination of the local studio requirement and the national network designs of Sinclair. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the record in the proceeding. The richness of the record on this matter would suggest that even though the Trump FCC has bent the rules to facilitate such a merger, it is not in the public interest.

Sinclair Broadcasting – and 2 Maine TV stations – under fire for pro-Trump segments

Marc McCutcheon of South Portland was watching WGME’s evening newscast as he has for half a century when something came on that shocked him. In the midst of the local news, a taped commentary from President Trump’s former special assistant Boris Epshteyn appeared on the screen, trumpeting the administration’s position with what he thought selective use and abuse of facts. McCutcheon, a small-business owner and political independent, describes the experience as “surreal,” “extremely jarring” and “so out of place with the friendly, local broadcast from news people I’ve come to trust over the years.” There was no rebuttal, no context, no alternate point of view – a situation he found concerning. WGME-TV (Channel 13) and WPFO-TV (Channel 23) each carry the segments nine times a week on orders from their owner, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the nation’s largest owner of local television stations and an aggressive, unabashed disseminator of conservative commentary supporting the Trump wing of the Republican Party. The company has been in the national news regularly because the pro-Trump segments are appearing at the same time the company is awaiting approval from the Trump administration for it to purchase the 42 stations of the Tribune Media company, which will extend its reach to 72 percent of American households.

An audacious 5G power (pole) grab

[Commentary] Telecommunications companies are preparing to roll out the next generation of wireless networks, dubbed “5G,” which promise an enormous increase in capacity and connectivity. These networks not only will increase competition in broadband, they are a key enabling technology for a host of advanced products and services. They also represent a gateway to better economic opportunities in inner-city areas that are underserved by broadband today.

But these new networks are different in structure and appearance too. Instead of high-powered antennas on tall towers, they rely on an array of lower-power transmitters closer to the ground that serve much smaller “cells.” That’s why mobile phone companies are concerned that cities and counties will throw up bureaucratic or financial roadblocks to 5G in their communities. It’s not a groundless worry; wireless companies already have encountered local resistance in places where they have introduced the new technology. It’s the look and the intrusiveness of the small cell networks that seems to spark the controversy. People are upset about the deployment of thousands of pieces of equipment the size of small appliances being placed strategically and liberally on publicly owned “vertical infrastructure” (that’s bureaucratese for municipal utility poles, street lights and even traffic lights). That means a lot of equipment in full view and in proximity — really close in some cases — to houses and people. The wireless industry has a solution to this potentially huge NIMBY headache: A bill in the California legislature (SB 649) that would “streamline” the approval process for putting small cell networking gear on public poles and lights. If it’s on property the government controls, approval would be automatic in most cases, so local governments couldn’t drag out the permitting process with public hearings and studies. The bill also would limit how much rent locals can charge the companies for space on their poles and lights.

The telecommunication industry has been pushing this “streamlining” strategy in other states, with various degrees of success. Eleven have adopted some sort of laws to limit the local permitting process and pole fees. Legislators in other states, like Washington, have been more skeptical. California’s lawmakers ought to be wary as well and show more interest in protecting the rights of communities to govern the use of their infrastructure, rather than letting telecommunication companies make those decisions for them.