Policy

D.C. BRIEFS

1/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Grassley’s Hold Leaves Depleted FCC at Three

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission
is currently down to three members, with
the retirement of commissioner Michael Copps
at the end of December and a hold on the Senate
confirmation of its proposed two new members still
threatened at press time.

According to the office of Sen. Charles Grassley
(R-Iowa), “the hold is still on” with “no change in the
status” and “no movement on the FCC’s part.”

Grassley has been pushing the commission to
turn over internal and external documents related
to its waiver for wireless-network operator Light-
Squared, allowing the firm to use satellite spectrum
for terrestrial wireless-broadband service. That waiver
is on hold due to concerns that LightSquared’s Long-Term Evolution network will
interfere with global positioning satellites, the issue that most concerns Grassley.

But the senator has pledged to hold up the nominations of Republican Ajit Pai
and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel to the commission until he gets the documents
he has requested. (The FCC has posted some documents online in response
to various federal Freedom of Information Act requests, but Grassley’s office told Multichannel News the documents were not responsive to his request and
did not fill the bill). Both nominees have bipartisan support and are expected to
get full Senate approval. The Senate Commerce Committee has already approved
both appointments.

As of press time, there was an outside chance that the duo could receive recess
appointments, as President Obama last week threw down the gauntlet with Congress
and named Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau in such a maneuver.

Obama can bypass the Senate confi rmation process during recesses. The Senate
has been holding pro forma sessions, as Congress has historically done over
breaks, to prevent such recess appointments. Last week though, Obama said
White House lawyers have concluded that such sessions do not count. and the
Senate has been and continues to be in recess.

Asked last week whether the president would make any more recess appointments
— two Federal Trade Commission nominations are also held up — White House
press secretary Jay Carney did rule out more such moves, saying only that he did
not have information on that “at this time.”

In addition to the FCC nominees, the renomination of Democratic FTC Chairman
Jon Leibowitz and Republican nominee Maureen Ohlhausen have also falied to get
confirmation votes in the full Senate. Ohlhausen joins Pai and Rosenworcel in the
green room, as it were, since she is a new nominee, but Leibowitz can continue to
serve. Although his term was up in 2010, FTC commissioners can serve in perpetuity
or until a successor/replacement has been confirmed.

In the meantime, the FCC can operate with three commissioners — it has done
so in the past — though Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell could theoretically
hold up votes at public meetings by leaving the room, which would result
in the lack of a quorum.

Piracy Bill’s Friends, Foes Climb SOPA Box

WASHINGTON — Supporters and opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA),
which include cable and broadcast networks and studios, have been making highprofile pleas for the anti-piracy legislation.

Markup of that bill, which would give content owners
and the Justice Department broader powers
to pursue alleged online video pirates and other
intellectual-property thieves, was suspended without
a House Judiciary Committee vote after major pushback
from Google and other open Internet and fairuse
activists.

Among the latest developments in the SOPA
battle:

The Boston Globe endorsed the bill on its editorial
page, saying: “If passed, the antipiracy legislation
would impose real consequences on companies that
make it easy to access pirated content. The government
could order search engines and Internet service
providers to block access to sites that illegally
infringe upon intellectual property.”

Bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, took
to the op-ed page of the Washington Times, arguing that the bill “specifically targets
foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has offered the OPEN Act, an alternative to SOPA
that uses the International Trade Commission to go after online piracy as it would
illegal imports of hard goods, was on C-SPAN’s Communicators series to argue
that the bill would “damage” the architecture of the Internet and turn “websites
into Web cops.” Wyden said he expected the national security community would
soon be expressing its concerns about that “threat” to the architecture, which
he said was potential damage to the domain name system.
Rep.

Darrell Issa (R-Calif) — an OPEN Act co-sponsor — and Fred von Lohmann,
senior copyright counsel for Google, which oppses SOPA, and Rick Cotton, executive
vice president and general counsel of NBCUniversal, which supports it, appeared
on KQED Radio in San Francisco to make their respective cases.

Smith’s committee is expected to hold a hearing this month to vet any online
security issues raised by SOPA.

ACT: California Punts on PEG Call

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has said she will
wait for the Federal Communications Commission to weigh in on whether digital
public, education and government (PEG) channels are insufficiently accessible to
the blind and deaf community, according
to American Community
Television.

That came in a letter to a complaint
to the attorney general, according
to ACT, which encouraged
those complaints in its ongoing
battle for easier PEG access.

“We shouldn’t have to wait,”
John Rocco, president of ACT,
said in response to Harris’ letter.
“The FCC has had the petition
challenging the treatment of PEG
channels on [AT&T’s] U-verse system
for almost three years, and
they have not acted.”

According to ACT, the letter
also referred to the FCC’s ongoing
implementation of the Twenty-
First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 as reason to
hold off on a decision, vetting that ACT points out will be ongoing for a couple of
more years.

ACT said blind and vision-impaired people can’t access PEG channels on AT&T’s
U-Verse TV platform through on-screen menus and has complained about that issue
before.

At the time ACT first called for the attorney general to investigate its claims,
AT&T countered that its programming can be “easily and quickly accessed, is high
quality and offers many benefits.”

Horse Race: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

WASHINGTON — A new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests
that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s razor-close second-place
finish in the Iowa Caucus last Tuesday
(Jan. 3) was aided by the news
media’s focus on the horse-race
aspect of the campaign in its final
weeks.

“If momentum in presidential
politics is something that builds on
itself, “ PEJ said, “then Rick Santorum’s
last-minute surge to finish in
a virtual tie for first with Mitt Romney
in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses
benefited from the narrative in the
news media.”

According to a PEJ analysis of more than 11,500 news stories between Dec. 19
and Jan. 2, more than a quarter (27%) dealt with polls, strategy and momentum
as Santorum coverage began to focus on signs he was surging in the polls, including
a CNN poll showing he had moved into third place at the time.

PEJ points out that the media narrative for both Santorum, who trailed Romney
in Iowa by eight votes, and Romney brightened, particularly as previous front-runner
Newt Gingrich’s support slipped. Gingrich was attributing much of that last week to
Super PAC attack ads. Super PACs, a relatively new vehicle, were facilitated by the
U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which holds that they can directly fund
ads supporting or opposing candidates in the run-up to elections and primaries.

According to PEJ’s analysis, the rest of the top-five campaign storylines were coverage
devoted to the issues and the candidates’ records, at 19%; followed by 16%
to the role of the Iowa caucus itself; 15% to events on the ground in Iowa; and
10% to political ads, particularly those bought by Super PACs.

—John Eggerton

May
June