A quick update. Regretably, I have been too busy since coming back to type up my notes from the last day of the Media Reform Conference. I will say that Bill Moyers gave an amazing speech about the current attempt by the Bush administration to co-opt public television. Hopefully, I’ll have time to write up my take on the conflict around the Corporation for Public Broadcasting later. For other updates, see below . . .
Broadband properties has a very comprehensive report on the muni wireless issue. Great for folks interested in both the pro and con sides of the argument, as well as discussions about the technology.
The battle in TX is going down to the wire. As you know, TX is SBC country in a big way. They initially introduced a truly awful anti-muni bill. It got stopped in the TX House and then reintroduced as an amendment to the bill reauthorizing the TX Public Utility Commission (which requires re-authorization by the legislature, or it will “sunset” and disappear). The PUC Reauthorization Bill is being debated in the Senate. SBC allies have tried a number of tricks to attach the anti-muni provisions to the Senate version, but have been defeated at every turn. There is a huge coalition of public interest groups, local governments, and industry players (such as Intel and Dell Computers) lobbying against the anti-muni provisions. This battle is promising to go down to the wire, with the TX legislature scheduled to adjourn soon and not reconvene for another 18 months.
On the bad side, we seem to be about to loose in Colorado. The Colorado House and Senate have passed bad anti-muni bills with trivial differences that still need to be reconcilled, so there is a chance of still stopping it in the legislature, but things look bleak. After that, the only way to stop it is with a veto by the governor, who has indicated he will sign it. You can find out more about the status of this and other state anti-muni bills through Jim Baller’s excellent list. For those unfamiliar with Jim, he is one of the most active attorneys representing local governments on this issue (and others) and real hero in this. You can see his corporate law site here.
After a modest four years, the FCC has finally released a new Order on cable ownership. In 1992, Congress told the FCC to set a limit on how many cable systems any one company can own or have an interest in. The FCC set a limit of 30%, but for various reasons the limit did not come into effect until 2000. Then, in 2001, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which houses the most activist conservative anti-regulation judges in the nation, declared that the FCc had failed to justify the 30% limit under the D.C. Circuit’s very narrow reading of the statute. So it remanded the matter back to the FCC. We tried to appeal to the Supreme Court, but the FCC opposed our appeal and rushed out an “expedited” rulemaking to address the D.C. Circuit opinion (and persuade the Supreme Court to wait until after the rulemaking, which might render grant of review unnecessary). I worked my butt off to meet the “expdited” deadlines, and the FCC then proceeded to do nothing for the next four years. (bitter, me?)
Anyway, with Comcast preparing to buy chunks of the bankrupt Adelphia cable systems and do a system swap with Time warner, which will completely consolidate Comcast’s hold the northeast corridor and elsewhere (and Time Warner’s hold on the south west), the FCC agreed it needed to get moving. (As I’ve said before, whatever else I may disagree with Chairman Martin about, he believes in getting the process right). You can read the 90-page pdf file here. I’m still digesting, but what it boils down to is:
1) After four years, we need to refresh the record again.
2) Despite the fact that we received legal arguments, economic arguments, and anecdotal evidence supporting the arguments, we still don’t have enough evidence to make a rule.
3) We have no clue what kind of evidence we need to make an actual rule.
4) Please submit your filings with whatever evidence you think will help.
On the good side, the FCC set a fairly tight deadline, so I expect they want to get this done before the Comcast merger is decided. How this will play out in a Commission divided between two Demorcats and two Republicans is unclear. Also on the good side, the Order acknowledges in a footnote that while the D.C. Cir. remanded the 30% limit, it did not vacate the limit. So the Comcast/Adelphia/Time Warner deal is subject to review under the old rule until the new rule comes out. However, since the FCC can always approve a merger even if it violates a rule, this is a very small crumb of comfort.
Low Power FM
A group of Representatvies (all Dems, sadly) sent a letter to Martin telling him they don’t like it when people get free licenses to do translator service and instead sell the licenses to make a quick buck. Hopefully, this will put pressure on the FCC to do a serious investigation of the complaint I filed back in March.
Stay tuned . . .