The FCC Meets on Tuesday – Why Should Communities Care?

Next Tuesday (Dec 18, 2007), the FCC is holding an open meeting to consider the following:

  1. the 12th Competitive Market Conditions with Respect to Commercial Mobile Services, 2) satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS)
  2. new media ownership rules
  3. initiatives designed to increase participation in the broadcasting industry by new entrants and small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses
  4. trends in embedded advertising and the efficacy of the current sponsorship identification rules with regard to embedded advertising
  5. the Broadcasting Localism proceeding, and
  6. cable ownership limits.

(Get the official announcement.)

At the Blandin Broadband conference in November, a few community leaders asked me for more info on the FCC and why they should care about the FCC since they are plenty busy without caring about them. So I thought I’d address that a little here.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all use (except federal government use) of the radio spectrum (including radio and television broadcasting) and all interstate telecommunications (wire, satellite and cable) as well as all international communications that originate or terminate in the United States.

The current commissioners are Chairman Kevin Martin (R-NC), Commissioner Michael Copps (D-WI), Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein (D-SD), Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate (R-TN), Commissioner Robert M. McDowell (R-VA). Three of them are Republicans and two are Democrats. All are appointed by the President.

(Martin recently replaced Michael Powell. Some seem to feel that he is too willing to accommodate the needs of large businesses, as the following article indicates (Big Media Myopia at the FCC). Another recent article hints as possible trouble for Martin in the future: Congressional probe targets Martin.)

So, why should community leaders care about the FCC? Their real power is allocating licenses. But in an age when media and communications are starting to mix (voice, video, and data – the triple play of broadband), providing licenses can open or close the door to incumbents and emerging providers and indirect uses of telecommunications. (I think it’s very helpful to look at the FCC’s list of Major Initiatives to help put a face on what issues they address.)

For example, currently the Wireless Innovation Alliance is lobbying the FCC and Congress to open up bands between television channels available for unlicensed broadband wireless applications (aka white spaces) for use as wireless broadband spectrum. Some big companies are behind this effort because of a prototype device built by Microsoft that can use the white space spectrums to provide high-speed broadband access to consumers. 

Some of the issues they are addressing next week are quite controversial.

They are talking about new media ownership rules and initiatives to create (diverse) participation in broadcasting. As you can imagine, the people who are already in the tent lean towards closing the tent and expanding the power. The people who aren’t in the tent want it opened and more transparent. The big questions include:

  1. How can we fairly encourage new entrants?
  2. How does (or should) service to the local community fit in with operating requirements?
  3. Who should decide the rules, the federal, state or local governments?
  4. Who can best speak for local needs and where might any licensing fees be best deposited?
  5. Should cable providers, telephone companies, wireless, ISPs, satellite, and future media/communications providers be treated equally?
  6. And the question every parent understands – is equal fair?
  7. How do we pay for service? This gets into embedded advertising to some degree and Net Neutrality issues, which don’t appear to be on the docket for Tuesday.
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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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