Cable Show 2013: A View From The Hill

Commerce Staffers from Senate, House Speak at Show
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House and Senate Commerce Committee staffers weighed in on the major policy issues of the day—and there were a lot of them, in a wide-ranging panel discussion at Imagine Park on the Cable Show floor Monday.

Their answers usually varied depending on which side of the aisle they came from, although there was general agreement that their bosses were looking for a generally clean renewal of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act , the legislation granting a compulsory license to import distant affiliated TV station signals.

On hand to provide those perspectives were John Branscome, senior counsel, Senate Commerce Committee; Neil Fried, chief counsel, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology; David Grossman, senior technology policy advisor, office of ranking Member Anna Eshoo; Kristin Sharp, legislative director, office of senator Mark Pryor; Greg Orlando, counsel, Senate Commerce Committee; David Quinalty, policy director for Communications and Technology, Subcommittee Senate Commerce Committee; and Roger Sherman, chief counsel, Democratic staff, House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Democratic staffer Grossman warned of legislation in the offing if the court throws out the FCC’s network neutrality rules. His boss, Anna Eshoo, has already made that pledge. That was seconded by Sherman, who said his boss, Rep. Henry Waxman (R-Calif.) would “absolutely” want Congress act to make it clear that the FCC had the power to protect consumers.

Orlando said he did not see Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee wanting to see any congressional action if Verizon wins its challenge to the rules, including any attempt to impose Title II regs on ISPs, either by the FCC or Congress.

Fried agreed that House Republicans were hoping there would be no further congressional action, that is unless the FCC tries to classify under Title II. He also said he hoped the newly constituted FCC, whenever it gets around to being newly constituted, would see that it would be both bad policy and a waste of time to step in given that there is “no real harm out there that needs fixing.”

Cable is in search of more Wi-Fi spectrum.

Moderator Cinnamon Rogers, VP, federal affairs, for Time Warner Cable, pointed out that the Congress and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration have been trying to get spectrum from DOD for years without success, but wondered whether the current spectrum crunch gave them additional leverage in that pursuit.

Fried said that he wasn’t sure that leverage was part of the conversation, but that the conversation on the Republican side was about a government spectrum auction similar to the broadcast incentive auction. “That is where the conversations are at the moment,” he said, adding that he was optimistic.

On the issue of STELA, Fried said that while his boss has talked about wanting a clean renewal, that did not mean he was not open to suggested fixes. He pointed out that there was another hearing on the bill this week and that stakeholders would have a chance to weigh in.

Sherman said that Rep. Waxman’s view that it would be hard enough to get a clean bill passed, so his inclination was toward a clean reauthorization, but that he also welcomed debate on issues.

Grossman reiterated Eshoo’s desire for a clean bill, but did not rule out conversations about retrains or related blackouts.

All appeared to agree that inaction on cybersecurity is not an option, but there remains no clear path to bipartisan legislation, though Fried said focusing on info sharing is the best hope.

Among the issues that could be raised in nomination hearings for the new FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, and the Republican “player to be named later: On the Democratic side, said Branscome, consumer protection, media ownership, programming costs, and spectrum would be on the agenda. Quinalty pointed to the auctions, network neutrality, and the FCC’s approach to the marketplace.