Washington Briefs

Washington Briefs

Congress Wades Into Satellite License

WASHINGTON — STELA! That was the cry last week not of a lust-lorn Stanley Kowalski, but of media reporters prepping for another marathon march toward reauthorization and modification of the satellite compulsory-license regime.

The House Communications Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing Feb. 13 on renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) for another five years. It is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014. STELA provides the blanket license that allows satellite operators to deliver distant signals to subscribers who cannot get a viewable signal from their local TV-station affiliate.

Among those asked to testify include the National Association of Broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association of America, and satellite companies DirecTV and Dish Network.

It may seem early to begin focusing on the renewal process two years early. Last time out, though, the drawn-out and contentious process to extend the measure wound up extending well past two years, with a series of fiscal cliff-like extensions that took the measure almost six months beyond its Dec. 31, 2009, expiration date.

At one point, the license technically expired and the heads of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which shares jurisdiction with Energy & Commerce over the license issues, contacted copyright holders and satellite operators asking them to continue to operate as though the license was still in place and promising to make the license retroactive, which they did.

Issues in dispute included macro ones, such as whether there should still be a compulsory license at all or whether broadcasters should negotiate individually, and more parochial ones, such as constituents whose gerrymandered Nielsen markets mean that they can’t legally receive the games of favorite local pro or college sports team. Though parochial, access to sports always seems to get the attention of legislators.

FCC Chairman Name Game Continues

WASHINGTON — The stock of former National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Tom Wheeler is on the rise in the name game for potential replacements for Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski, according to sources familiar with the situation.

That would be a case of the door swinging both ways, since former FCC chairman Michael Powell is now president of NCTA.

Wheeler, NCTA chief from 1976 to 1984 and now managing director of Core Capital Partners, was an Obama fundraiser and a technology policy adviser for the president’s transition team. He is a former wireless- executive and headed CTIA—The Wireless Association from 1992 to 2004, and is also as a renaissance man who once wrote a book on leadership lessons from the Civil War.

Trending just below that is Jason Furman, the “whipsmart economist” (as one Democrat puts it) who is assistant to the president for economic policy. He is said to be about on par with longtime Obama adviser Karen Kornbluh, both of whom have proximity to the president, though Genachowski still won’t say when or if he is leaving.

Former FCC broadband czar Blair Levin’s name is still in the hat, but taking on broadcasters in the National Broadband Plan and rural utilities in Universal Service Fund reform could make the case for confirming him a tough one.

Former White House technology adviser Susan Crawford is actively lobbying for the job and making herself available for interviews, but sources suggest she is a long shot.

E&C Posts ‘Net Threat ‘Promo’

WASHINGTON — If the warnings about the threat of an international effort to regulate the Internet weren’t sufficiently clear in last Tuesday’s (Feb. 5) Communications Subcommittee hearing on the subject, the House Energy & Commerce Committee have put an exclamation point.

Billed as from the “E&C Studio,” the committee posted a YouTube video last week of excerpts from the hearing backed by ominous music and a drum beat that made it seem more like a promo for the next studio action flick than a Hill hearing. It is the latest in a series of postings that borrow promo techniques to make their point.

It was even billed in an e-mail as “E&C Studio Presents: Promoting Global Internet Freedom” and was only lacking a voiceover from the late, great action promo voice actor Don LaFontaine. A committee spokesman was unavailable for comment.

The star of the promo was arguably FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who led off with the statement that the Internet was “under assault.”

Click through to the YouTube video at multichannel.com/June11.

Cable to FCC: Phone It in on VoIP

WASHINGTON — Cable operators have been urging the Federal Communications Commission to take a generally hands-off approach to voice-over-Internet protocol as the world turns inexorably toward broadband, except where interconnection is concerned.

In comments to the FCC, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said it generally favored a light-touch regulatory approach to IP “retail” voice service, but said it should continue to “oversee interconnection for the exchange of voice traffic to ensure there is noharmful disruption to competitive providers and their customers as a result of the incumbent LECs’ technological transition.”

AT&T has asked the FCC to deregulate traditional phone traffic as the industry migrates to IP delivery, but does not want those old regulations to migrate to the new IP platform.

Cablevision added its “amen” in separate comments, putting in a plug for IP interconnection given that AT&T requires it to convert to and from IP delivery to traditional TDM (time division multiplex) delivery when interconnecting its VoIP traffic with AT&T and other incumbent local-exchange carriers.

Little Data: Big Problem?

WASHINGTON — The Internet economy could be threatened if “do not track” becomes the default setting of choice for Web users, and a new study suggests that could be the case.

According to a new global survey from London-based analyst Ovum, more than two-thirds of respondents across 11 countries in North, South and Central South America, Europe and Asia would opt for “do not track” settings on their Web browsers.

The company says that data-privacy issues involving Facebook and Google have helped spark consumer concerns. Only 14% of survey respondents said they believed Internet companies were telling them the truth about how their personal data is used. That credibility gap could become a chasm, the company suggests.

“[I]n the gold rush that is big data, taking the supply of ‘little data’ — personal data—for granted seems to be an accident waiting to happen,” Ovum principal analyst Mark Little said in a statement. “However, consumers are being empowered with new tools and services to monitor, control, and secure their personal data as never before, and it seems they increasingly have the motivation to use them.”