Regulators Fight FCC’s 90-Day Shot Clock
Montgomery County Files Appeal
by Linda Haugsted
Local regulators across the country challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s so-called “90-day shot clock,” calling it an abuse of power, and the agency’s latest order clarifying its application of the rule has also been appealed in court. The FCC released a Second Report and Order on Nov. 6, which detailed what franchising rules in the March 5 First Report and Order should also apply to incumbent cable TV operators.
For instance, the latest order states that the 90-day time frame does not apply to incumbents at the time of refranchising because as a current operator, a company can continue to deliver service even if negotiations run long. Therefore, prolonged talks are not a barrier to the provision of service.
But Montgomery County, MD., on behalf of other challengers of the FCC rules on franchising, appealed the latest order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Dec. 6. The county’s appeal asserts that the most recent order “exceeds the FCC’s statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious and violates the Fifth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” among other legal claims.
These are similar to the abuse of regulatory discretion claims made in the challenge to the original, March 5, franchising order. That legal challenge is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District.
Criticism of the FCC’s chairman is widely aired
‘Lone operator’ is said to keep plans from colleagues and manage the agency ineffectively.
by Jim Puzzanghera
Los Angeles Times
The Federal Communications Commission’s monthly meetings are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin, the trains don’t always run on time, and recently they’ve come close to veering off the rails. On Nov. 27, for instance, the FCC was slated to consider controversial proposals dealing with potential new cable TV regulations and increasing women and minority ownership of broadcast stations. Journalists, lobbyists and spectators waited as the five commissioners on the fractious panel wrangled over the issues eight floors above. When they finally showed up for the public session — nearly 12 hours late — the few spectators remaining had front-row seats for the sniping and accusations that are threatening to become hallmarks of FCC meetings.
Critics usually blame Martin, a soft-spoken Republican known as a political tactician who has accomplished the rare feat of being criticized by all four of his fellow commissioners. He is also facing a congressional inquiry into the FCC’s procedures and allegations of flawed research studies, suppressing data, ignoring public input and holding hearings with minimal notice.
“The FCC appears to be broken,” Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during a hearing last week. Congressional Democrats’ growing frustration with Martin could hinder his agenda. Last week, for example, a Senate committee passed legislation to delay Martin’s planned vote this month on loosening media ownership rules.
In an interview, Martin said he was under fire for trying to force the FCC to deal with controversial topics. “It’s not unusual for there to be tension in trying to work them out.”
FCC employees and people who frequently deal with the agency said tensions were bogging down the panel. Reviews of corporate mergers and sales frequently stretch longer than the six months the agency aims for. Critics have complained that important issues — such as the 2009 transition to digital television and reforming a fund that subsidizes phone and Internet service for low-income and rural residents — are taking a back seat to bickering. “There’s budding upheaval here if some of these abuses don’t get addressed,” said an FCC official who requested anonymity to avoid irritating Martin. —>
What cable competition bill, poised for passage Tuesday, may mean for consumers
by Brian E. Clark
When the Chibardun Telephone Cooperative considered offering cable television services in Rice Lake six years ago, it backed off the plan because of a city requirement that it serve all of the 9,000-person community within 18 months. “We couldn’t make that commitment,” said Rick Vergin, CEO of the 70-employee company. But if the state Assembly approves legislation dubbed the cable competition bill (AB 207) on Tuesday and Gov. Jim Doyle signs it, Vergin says his company will begin offering service early next year to Rice Lake.
Adam Raschka, a spokesman for Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, said he expects the legislation to pass without amendments. Montgomery is the lead proponent of the Assembly bill. “It’s been discussed at length,” Raschka said of the legislation, which ends existing deals with local governments and cable companies. Those agreements would be replaced by a state-wide franchise costing $2,000 annually. “We are confident the Assembly will concur with the Senate version,” he said of Tuesday’s planned floor session.
But critics of the legislation remain. Among them: Jim Zellmer, who runs a small real estate software firm in the Madison suburb of Fitchburg. He says the bill is flawed because it lacks consumer protections and fails to require telecommunications companies to lay fiber optic cable to homes and businesses. Zellmer and other critics also say they doubt if it will lead to more competition…
Barry Orton, a UW-Madison professor, said he’s concerned the bill will leave parts of Wisconsin underserved. “I know they say ‘the market will take care of it,’ but I worry that there will be some poor areas of Milwaukee or south Madison, for example, that will be ‘red-lined,’ with this new law,” he said.
Zellmer, who blogs on telecommunications and other issues at Zmetro.com, said he sees “no evidence that the dominant Wisconsin ‘telcos’ have an interest in implementing a modern, widespread fiber network to the home. “Pervasive fiber benefits everyone – schools, government, residential and business users, but they aren’t going to build it,” argued Zellmer, who owes the predicted telecommunications victory on this legislation to a huge lobbying effort. “Meanwhile, around the world and in other U.S. communities, fiber installation continues,” he said. “It will take decades for Wisconsin to catch up, once it starts.”
According to author Bruce Kushnick’s book, “$200 Billion Broadband Scandal,” – cited on Zellmer’s blog – the U.S. telecommunications companies have failed to live up to promises they would install fiber to 86 million households by 2006. Kushnick said that agreement was part of the deal worked out in the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act. “They asked for and were given some $200 billion in tax cuts to pay for it. “But the Bells didn’t spend that money on fiber upgrades,” he said. “They spent it on long distance, wireless and inferior DSL services.” —>
Bright House Makes Waves In Government Television
by Anthony McCartney
The Tampa Tribune (FL)
Some television viewers who want to watch government programming will have to pay a little extra to tune in beginning Tuesday. The move affects Bright House Networks subscribers who do not have a digital television or cable service that requires a converter box. They will have to pay $1 a month for a digital converter to watch several government, education and public access channels. The channels also will be moving on the channel lineup, no longer occupying a lower tier of channel numbers. The new lineup will be as follows: —>
Time to upgrade Channel 26
by Dave Hardesty
Tracy Press (CA)
—> I recommend engaging a service provider that deals with live and indexed on-demand video services, such as can be seen by viewing http://elkgrove.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3, Elk Grove’s city Web page; or http://stockton.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=4, the Web page for the city of Stockton.
With an initial investment of about $20,000 and a re-occurring expense of roughly $10,000 per year, money already available via the funding from the Cable Franchise Agreement and defrayed costs incurred by having city-paid employees do the job, the city of will be positioned to join cities like San Francisco, San Carlos, Palo Alto, Brentwood and Sacramento, offering residents live and on-demand streaming Internet video. —>
Media center puts focus on nonprofits
by Erica Kritt
Carroll County Times (MD)
The Community Media Center is making it easier for residents to give to those in need in Carroll County. All this month, 48 of the county’s nonprofits are being spotlighted on Channel 19, the county’s TV channel. The eight hourlong programs, which will run every day of the week for the rest of the month, were filmed Friday at the Community Media Center. “We’ve been doing it for nine years,” said Marion Ware, executive director of the CMC. “It started off as a Christmas party and it’s just gotten bigger.” —>
An “Honest” Mistake in Greece?
Rochester Turning (NY)
Well – another day another op-ed piece that makes you spit out your coffee. I’d argue many of these op-eds are actual health and safety issues as it seems I’m continually spitting out my breakfast as I read the daily drivel. Two words I don’t want to see in the same sentence – let alone referring to the same event “on advice from the district’s attorneys” and “honest mistake”
So let’s review the editorial. Here is my take. A school board member urges voters to vote a particular way. This is either illegal in some degree or, as the op-ed says, prohibited. So the school board member urges a vote a certain way, the incident is caught on tape. Attorney’s are consulted and the offending (to the school board) video is deleted. The offending school board member apologizes and all with well with the world. Oh, we should be reasonably concerned that the school board who doesn’t have to tape these meetings might get the opportunity for greater abuses because there is a move to take these responsibilities from a local independent agency currently taping these meeting. The Fed rules are stricter. Where to start. —>
Celebrating everyday women
by Cindy Cantrell
Boston Globe (MA)
While working as a realtor for 22 years, Dacey Zouzas of Chelmsford said she was consistently inspired by tales of personal and professional perseverance from the women she met. So when she saw an ad looking for volunteers to produce public access shows a year and a half ago, Zouzas (left) became a television host and producer in order to share their stories. “I wanted to do something to celebrate these everyday women who are working and raising families, and moving forward no matter what cards they’ve been dealt,” she said. “I wanted to bring their voices front and center.”
Since launching “Dacey’s Divas” through Chelmsford TeleMedia in June 2006, Zouzas has broadcast 40 episodes. Guests have included businesswomen, politicians, philanthropists, leaders in education and nonprofit organizations, athletes, musicians, artists, and survivors of cancer and other illnesses. —>
For Ewa Today
Hawaii House Blog (HI)
That’s the title of Rep. Cabanilla’s weekly public access television show on Olelo, ch. 54. It airs every Sunday at 7:00 p.m. For the month of December, the show will focus on the Toll Road concept.
New bill would stop FCC’s cable regulation attempt
by Nate Anderson
What happens when a large and powerful US industry decides that it doesn’t like a law? Simple: it works to change that law. AT&T has had notable success this year at pushing legislation for state governments to bypass local controls and give the company a statewide video franchise. Not to be left out, cable has mounted a lobbying offensive of its own in the wake of the FCC’s attempt to regulate the industry. The effort is now paying fruit in Washington.
Late last week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced HR4307 (PDF), the “Consumer Freedom of Choice in Cable Act.” It’s not clear why this name was chosen, since the bill’s main text is under fifty words long and simply repeals the 70/70 rule so loathed by cable. Does that make you, the consumer, feel free to choose?
The 70/70 rule came out of a 1984 cable law that largely deregulated the industry. That law said that the FCC could exert broad authority over the cable companies should they ever pass more than 70 percent of all US households, and should more than 70 percent of those households actually subscribe to cable. No one doubts that the first threshold has been reached, but there is substantial uncertainty about the second one. —>
The 700 Club – Minus Two
by Jim Barthold
Comcast and Time Warner Cable have withdrawn from next month’s mortgage-the-future bidding war for 700 MHz spectrum, thereby squelching a pretty good theory about how cable operators could blanket their serving areas with WiMAX and deliver an in-franchise mobile wireless play using 700 MHz spectrum.
Ostensibly, the two biggest MSOs pulled out because that multi-billion-dollar swath of spectrum they bought as part of SpectrumCo, along with Cox Communications and (at the time but not now) Sprint Nextel, will cover their mobile needs. Beneath the surface, it’s also likely the two cable behemoths, who surprisingly broke stride with Cox on this, didn’t want to get into a bidding war with the deep pocketed telcos and their newfound gadfly friend Google.
While it sort of makes sense for Comcast and Time Warner to back away, and it sort of makes sense for Cox to stay in, it’s puzzling why Google, which has a lot of money but no networking sense, wants to play at all. —>