FCC Mulls Using a Lighter Touch


WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission should give “close attention” over the next few years to the issue of whether the agency will need to apply a lighter regulatory hand to a dynamic and changing video marketplace, Media Bureau chief Bill Lake told an at The Cable Show here.

That came during a panel last Tuesday (June 11) featuring an embarrassment of riches in the FCC bureau chief department, as seven top agency officials took turns outlining their agendas and issues.

While the FCC has not weighed in on whether onlinevideo distributors should be subject to traditional multichannel- video program distributor (MVPD) regulations, Lake noted, the Media Bureau in the Sky Angel decision expressed the view that the Internet protocol-delivered Christian subscription-TV platform was not likely to succeed in making the case that it was an MVPD.

While the sequester has cut down on travel by federal agencies, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s decision to hold the show here meant the panel was packed, with just enough room for moderator Rick Chessen, the NCTA’s senior vice president of law and regulatory policy and himself a former FCC official.

Chessen asked a “news you can use” question for those in the audience who have to make their case at the FCC. Asked whether such arguments had ever changed his mind on a position, Lake had to reach back to one that was not currently being litigated and came up with the FCC’s selectable output waiver, which allowed for earlier cable video-on-demand windows for movies.

He said he had initially felt that the waiver was an unjustifiable incursion on the use of devices any way a consumer wanted. But he had been persuaded that such limited authority for operators to control what comes out of a set-top actually gave consumers something they would not otherwise have — that early window. He said his mind was changed by a “very good explanation” of the consumer benefit.

Lake pointed out that the waiver had not had a big impact in terms of opening that window, but that it did not prove to be a consumer harm, either.

Office of Engineering & Technology chief Julie Knapp suggested that the interplay between stakeholders and the FCC was integral to the decision- making process in general. “So much of what we do relies on interaction with all the stakeholders,” he said, adding that interaction had a real impact on decisions more often than not.

Chessen asked the panelists to weigh in on some big issues and some sleepers. The spectrum auctions recieved lots of votes in the “big” department — or the 500-pound gorilla, as Lake tabbed them.

Lake said that one of the sleeper issues, or more like one that had him tossing and turning in bed, was where to go with navigation devices after the courts threw out the CableCard rules while preserving the integration ban. The question of what downloadable security should be included in navigation devices remains, he said.

David Turetsky, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said that if there were sleepers in his area, he hoped they stayed asleep.

Asked about the FCC’s retransmission-consent rulemaking, Lake said it was still open and that the agency continued to watch the industry and both the continued and threatened blackouts. He also talked about the price of content as one of the factors in those impasses. The FCC continued to have an open mind about the possible need for a regulatory response, he added.