Federal Communications Commission commissioner Michael Copps spoke with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton last week in an exit interview of sorts, upon ceasing to be acting chairman after Julius Genachowski was sworn in as President Obama’s new choice. For a longer version of their conversation, visit Multichannel.com.
MCN: A spectrum-inventory bill is being marked up this week. Do you ever see a time when broadcasters are asked either to give back their spectrum or pay a user fee?
Michael Copps: I think the first thing to do is to get that inventory — I think that is highly important — and find out, at [looks at his watch] a quarter to 12 on the seventh of July, what spectrum in the United States is actually being utilized. I don’t have a very good idea of that and I don’t know that anybody does.
So I think it is very difficult to envision what the future is going to be. I have said that over the course of time a lot of broadcasters will migrate to the Internet. It might be a very different world. I don’t think that is just around the corner, but if you take the long view of things, that will present all sorts of new challenges.
MCN: Let’s talk about the stimulus-funding backed broadband rollout for a minute. How could the FCC get that wrong and what would the consequences be?
MC: We could get it wrong very easily. The trick will be to get it right. We have a huge amount of information coming in. There is going to be lots of other information coming in. We have 20 forums in August. The trick is going to be, with all that information coming in the funnel, how does something come out of there that is really practical, achievable and can be translated pretty quickly into a workable strategy to start getting broadband deployed?
Some real hard calls are going to have to be made. You can’t open up every facet of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 without getting into more of the endless debates we have had since 1996.
On the other hand, you have take up some of these things, like universal service, that maybe we do separately or part of that. So we could get it wrong very, very easily. But I am happy with the new team. The new chairman obviously has a commitment to broadband and to getting this right.
MCN: If broadband is job one, what are job two and three that shouldn’t get lost in that focus?
MC: I continue to be interested in talking about and acting on some kind of public-interest guidelines. I would very much hope that in the world we live in now … the new folks in Washington running the government will really step up and engage in a conversation with my friends in the broadcasting industry.
MCN: On the cable side?
MC: We have teed up program carriage and program access in the past and gotten almost there. We are getting close to consensus on a number of items before us.
[Public, education and government] channels is a big issue as well. We need to take a good look at that. We put out in my “acting-ship” petitions from cities and others to try to get a handle on what is going on. [PEG channels] are a wonderful bastion of localism, diversity and all sorts of interesting programs. More people watch them than you might think. I think the commission needs to move with some expedition on PEG.