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Issue Watch

2017 Issue Watch

Ajit Pai Charts the Future

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has pledged to roll back regulations he believes are wasteful or will cause unnecessary hardship, including rules that keep broadcasters from competing more aggressively in a world of media choice.  Pai, a Republican FCC commissioner since 2012 who was named chairman by President Donald Trump in January, has been accused of being on a mission to dismantle Democratic predecessor Tom Wheeler’s legacy.  Pai, though, says that his goal is to deliver value for the American people and that community-centric broadcasters are central to his consumer-service mission.

The 44-year-old Pai has already generated some heat in the broadband world by rolling back regulations governing privacy and the Internet.  In broadcasting, he has already restored the so-called “UHF discount,” which gave UHF stations an ad vantage in tallying reach, and is eyeing other media-ownership rules, including the 39% national ownership cap. » Read More

FCC's Pai Plans Digital Diversity Empowerment Committee

Only a "working" day after the FCC's new Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee held its first meeting (April 21), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he is creating a new Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.

"Every American should have the opportunity to participate in the communications marketplace, no matter their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation," he said.

"This Committee will be charged with providing recommendations to the FCC on empowering all Americans," he said in a statement.  "For example, the Committee could help the FCC promote diversity in the communications industry by assisting in the establishment of an incubator program and could identify ways to combat digital redlining." » Read More

President Trump Brands ABC, NBC Polls as Fake News

President Donald Trump attacked ABC and NBC polls as fake news and "totally wrong in general" Monday morning, quoting from parts of an ABC News/Washington Post poll that said 53% said Trump was a strong leader and saying new polls were "very good considering that much of the media is FAKE and almost always negative." 

He also continued to maintain he would have won the popular vote, a curious claim that surfaces periodically.

He tweeted the assertion "Would still beat Hillary in popular vote," though it was unclear what he meant since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by several million.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released April 23 found that 54% disapproved of the job President Trump was doing, compared with 40% who approved.  The poll found that 82% of Republicans approved of the president's job performance to date (he marks his first 100 days in office April 29), while only 30% of independents and 7% of Democrats approved. » Read More

President Trump's Tweet Distinguishes 'Fake' From 'Real' News

President Donald Trump may be trying to finesse his media attacks a bit – or maybe not. 

In a tweet Monday morning, the President's latest attack was that "The Fake Media (not Real Media) has gotten even worse since the election.  Every story is badly slanted.  We have to hold them to the truth!"

He did not say what the "real media" was, but at least it suggested there might be a difference, though it could have been a carve-out for Fox & Friends, which he has been consistently praising in recent weeks while hammering others.

Over the weekend, the President reminded his Twitter followers that he had won the election, that the election was over, and that the previous eight years of foreign policy had been a total failure –  "so true." » Read More

Lariat Tries To Lasso FCC's BDS Item Before Vote

Lariat.net, which bills itself as the first WISP (wireless internet service provider) – it launched in 1992, has told the FCC, or at least the staff of lone Democrat Mignon Clyburn, that the proposed broadband business data service (BDS) deregulation order on tap to be voted April 20 needs more economic analysis first.

It joins INCOMPAS and the Small Business Administration's advocacy office in seeking to delay the vote.

In a meeting with a top Clyburn staffer this week, Lariat owner and founder Brett Glass says the order's deregulation does not take sufficiently into account the ability and incentive of the soon-to-be deregulated dominant carriers to price internet transport services to WISPs like the Laramie, Wyo.-based Lariat at above-market prices, if they provide access to it at all. » Read More

FCC's O'Rielly: Substantial Analysis Needed of Auction

There was plenty of praise for the FCC's official conclusion of the broadcast incentive spectrum auction Thursday with a public notice full of stats relayed by FCC officials, but FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly was focused on what happens next for broadcasters.

The FCC also announced the new channel assignments for the 957 TV stations that will be moving, though those moves will affect other TV and radio stations as well in what is planned for a 39-month, $1.75-billion repacking tantamount, say broadcasters, to a second digital transition and one that could coincide with a move to a new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard, which is incompatible with current sets.

“Releasing the Closing and Channel Reassignment Public Notice finally removes the speculative rumors about its outcome and lets everyone start planning for the future," said O'Rielly in a statement.  "Moreover, it initializes the ability for the Commission and others to conduct substantial analysis regarding the auction structure and procedures." » Read More

Internet Association Pitches Pai on Preserving Title II-Based Rules

An association representing edge provider powerhouses met with FCC chairman Ajit Pai Tuesday to argue for preserving the FCC's Title II-based Open Internet order.  That comes as Pai is pondering how to roll back Title II, including by potentially having ISPs sign on to voluntary Open Internet principles that would then be enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission.

The Internet Association – whose members include Amazon, Google, Facebook, eBay, Netflix, Microsoft and Yahoo – met with Pai and top staffers to argue for retaining the rules, according to the association.

"IA continues its vigorous support of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which is a vital component of the free and open internet," the companies told Pai, according to an ex parte document filed with the FCC and confirmed by a spokesperson for the group.  "The internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition, and innovation online.  In other words, existing net neutrality rules should be enforced and kept intact."

That is unlikely given that the current FCC Republican majority opposes Title II reclassification, and Pai has made it clear he thinks net neutrality can be preserved without classifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II. » Read More

Broadcaster Coalition Steps Up Automated Piracy Monitoring

The International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP) and NAGRA (Kudelski Group), which provides content protection for video, have extended and expanded their agreement to combat the distribution of pirated international and multicultural TV content in the U.S.

That will include creating a "monitoring" lab to root out unauthorized distribution of content and automated systems to monitor set-top boxes, websites and other streaming platforms, according to a joint announcement of the expanded relationship. 

NAGRA's role is to detect the servers distributing pirated content from IBCAP members – which includes Sony Entertainment Television and MTV India – and get the content taken down, as well as provide investigation and litigation resources for potential lawsuits.

IBCAP, which "collaborates with Internet Service Providers ('ISPs'), payment processing agents, Content Delivery Networks ('CDNs') and hardware and software manufacturers to identify and stop unauthorized distribution of video content," has more than 30 members representing over 130 television channels from around the world. » Read More

House Votes To Repeal FCC Privacy Rules

In a victory for ISPs, advertisers and tech companies that had opposed the new FCC's broadband privacy rules, the House voted primarily along party lines 215 to 205 Tuesday (March 28) to repeal those rules, with only the President's signature needed to make it official. More than a dozen Republicans voted against it.

The vote on the Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval Tuesday (March 28) came after heated and sometimes loud debate, over the issue and even extended to talk about underwear size after Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) said that ISPs should not be able to sell online information on what size of underwear he buys to garment companies. » Read More

FCC's Spectrum Auction Finally Ending This Week

The end is coming this week for the broadcast incentive auction. The reverse auction (broadcaster portion of the auction) has been over since Jan. 18, but the assignment-phase auction for forward auction bidders is scheduled to close March 30.

That is the follow-up auction where forward auction winners are bidding on specific frequency assignments for the 10 MHz blocks of spectrum they won. They are not required to bid, but if they don't they will just get what the FCC assigns them. On March 30, the FCC is expected to announce the new auction total with the follow-on take added in, but will not identify who won what for a nother couple of weeks.

In mid-April, the commission will release a public notice identifying the winning bidders in both reverse and forward auctions. It will also publicly announce the new channels for TV stations being repacked so the 84 MHz of broadcast spectrum cleared in the auction can be turned over to those forward auction bidders for wireless broadband – comprising 70 MHz for licensed users and 14 MHz for unlicensed and buffer bands between wireless uplink and downlink and between wireless and broadcast users. » Read More

FCC's Pai Praises Charter's $25B Infrastructure Investment

FCC chairman Ajit Pai Friday praised Charter for its announced $25 billion infrastructure investment pledge over the next four years, which came at an Oval Office photo op Friday with President Donald Trump and even took some credit for the new regulatory climate Charter's Tom Rutledge said had made and would make that investment possible.

“The FCC’s top priority is making sure that any American who wants high-speed Internet access, or broadband, is able to get it," he said in a statement. "To do that, since January, we have been working to set rules of the road that encourage companies to build and upgrade broadband networks across the country. I’m pleased to see that our investment-friendly policies, along with the Administration’s overall regulatory approach, are already producing results.

"I applaud Charter Communications for its announcement today that it intends to spend $25 billion in broadband infrastructure and technology over the next four years. I am optimistic that this massive investment will help to close the digital divide and to strengthen our economy.”

Closing that digital divide is a Pai priority, the new chairman said soon after taking office Jan. 23. He has argued that his predecessor's policies had discouraged that investment, particularly the reclassification of ISPs as common carriers, something Pai is expected to roll back if Congress does not beat him to it.

» Read More

Ninth Circuit Reverses FilmOn X Decision

In a victory for broadcasters, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a lower court decision that FilmOn X was eligible for the same compulsory license to TV programming as cable operators have.

In the decision, released Tuesday, the appeals court held that "a service that captures copyrighted works broadcast over the air, and then retransmits them to paying subscribers over the Internet without the consent of the copyright holders, is not a 'cable system' eligible for a compulsory license under the Copyright Act."

Broadcasters led by Fox had challenged the lower court ruling.

That came only days after FilmOn X argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that another lower court decision denying them the license should be overturned.

The Ninth Circuit essentially deferred to the Copyright Office's conclusion that internet-based retransmission services are not eligible for the blanket license, indicating the status of FilmOn X's eligibility was hardly cut-and-dried. » Read More

FCC’s Pai: Media Are Not Enemy of the People

In a response to Senate Democrats that was short on elaboration, Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he did not believe the media was the enemy of the people and promised to exercise his media regulatory authority impartially.

“As Chairman of the FCC, I take my oath to defend and protect the Constitution seriously, and the preservation of the First Amendment is the foundation of that commitment,” Pai said.

That came in response to Senate Democrats concerned by his answers in an oversight hearing regarding President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and characterization of them as the enemies of the people.

At a March 8 FCC oversight hearing, when asked by Senate Democrats whether he agreed or disagreed with President Donald Trump’s characterization of the media as the enemies of the American people, Pai would not say yes or no, saying he did not want to get into that political debate and deferred to the White House about what he might have discussed during meetings with the President.

In response to a letter from Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Pai also said that he would not act in a manner that stifles or penalizes free speech “even if requested by the Administration.” He also said he did not commit to any member of that Administration to do so in exchange for getting the FCC post and committed to respect the “absolute independence” of his agency from the White House. » Read More

Judges Probe FilmOn X, Networks on Copyright Issue

To be or not to be defined as an MVPD, that is the question.

A federal appeals court Friday heard argument in the long-running court battle between TV station content providers and FilmOn X, and, according to an attorney at the lively and lengthy oral argument, bothsides had their adherents.

FilmOn X says it is the online equivalent of a cable system/MVPD and should be eligible for a blanket compulsory copyright license to stream TV content. Fox and the other Big Four TV networks – with the support of the National Association of Broadcasters – have said FilmOn X is not entitled to the license and cannot stream TV content without individually negotiating for the rights.

Hearing the case, Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FilmOn.TV Networks Inc., was a three-judge panel of the court comprising Chief Judge Merrick Garland and judges Brett Kavanaugh and Patricia Ann Millett.

According to Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel with the Washington Legal Foundation who was at the argument (WLF filed an amicus brief supporting Fox et al.), the argument went long – almost two hours – and included some lively questioning. » Read More

NCTA's Powell: Cable Is Still in Powerful Place

Michael Powell, president of NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, says that while churn is inevitable, doom and gloom scenarios are not. "As long as Internet is the foundation of all of the opportunities and choices, that still provides a pretty powerful place for cable in the home."

Powell was being interviewed for The Communicators series on C-SPAN, which is a public service backed by cable operators nationwide.

He signaled that the new FCC chairman was a visionary in that he sees the need for light-touch regs and for treating both networks and edge providers as important to the internet ecosystem's virtuous cycle of investment and innovation.

Powell covered a range of topics, including net neutrality and the impact of a new administration and FCC chairman, Powell is a former Republican chairman himself. » Read More

Rep. Blackburn Unveils Broadband Rule Smackdown Resolution

Republicans are going after the FCC's broadband privacy rules with both barrels.

Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, has introduced her version of a Congressional Review Act resolution invalidating the FCC's Oct. 27 order. That follows a similar CRA resolution introduced this week by Sen, Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The CRA allows a simple majority of Congress members to invalidate recent regulations, in this case rules approved by the FCC back in October.

Like the Flake resolution, H.J.Res. 86 "provides congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services." » Read More

Trump Meets With FCC's Pai in Oval Office

President Donald Trump met with FCC chairman Ajit Pai Monday afternoon in the Oval Office, according to the White House. The meeting was confirmed afterwards by an FCC spokesperson.

“Chairman Pai had a warm meeting with President Trump this afternoon, in which they reconnected for the first time since Chairman Pai was elevated to head the FCC," said the spokesman. "No proceedings pending at the FCC were discussed.”

It will be a busy week outside of the FCC for the chairman, who in addition to heading to the White House will be on Capitol Hill Wednesday along with the other commissioners for a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing.

The President, as a candidate, talked about blocking the AT&T-Time Warner deal, but the FCC's role in that deal will likely be limited to advising the Justice Department since the companies say the deal won't have to be submitted for a public interest review with the FCC.

Pai has been actively targeting some of former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's signature regulatory moves, including a broadband privacy framework he plans to recraft and an expansion of Lifeline subsidies he has put on hold, arguing the FCC first needs to get a better handle on preventing waste, fraud and abuse.

Pai has pledged to take a weed whacker to unneeded regs, which fits with the President's promise to get rid of "job-killing" regulations. » Read More

RTDNA, Other Press Groups Accuse Trump of Undermining Democracy

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) along with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the ACLU and more than 70 others accused President Donald Trump and his administration of trying to "undermine democracy" by marginalizing the media as an independent watchdog on government power.

That came in a joint statement following Trump's drumbeat of attacks on the mainstream media as disgraceful, purveyors of fake news, liars, and even the enemies of the people.

In the letter, the groups said "The effort to delegitimize the press undermines democracy, and officials who challenge the value of an independent press or question its legitimacy betray the country’s most cherished values and undercut one of its most significant strengths."

The groups signing on to the letter said a free press is a "safeguard against tyranny." » Read More

Durbin: Broadcasters Are Key Defense Against Press Threats

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took aim at President Donald Trump's attacks on the mainstream media Tuesday, signaling they were part of an assault on the media from without and within that threatened "the survival of journalism as a critical pillar of Democracy."

He branded the President's attacks on media as enemies as the tactics of strongmen to maintain power by silencing their critics.

Durbin was speaking to a roomful of radio and TV broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. He drew a standing ovation for his remarks, which were sharply critical of the President.

"The kinds of attacks on the media that we are seeing in America today would have seemed familiar 30 years ago in Ukraine or the Baltics, when those nations were still under Soviet occupation," he said. "And they would seem familiar today in authoritarian states like Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey or Hungary. Turning reporters into enemies – not just adversaries, but enemies – is a strategy that strongmen use to silence critics and maintain power.

"Their goal is to discredit the messenger. That way, when there is bad news, or news that contradicts the official line, people won’t believe it. Soon enough, people start to lose faith … not just in the media, but in all of the institutions that hold a society together. They lose faith in the power of debate and elections to change anything.

"They become cynical and apathetic. Democracies can’t survive in a universe of 'alternative facts.' American democracy depends on informed citizens debating our choices vigorously choosing a path forward." » Read More

FCC's Pai: Regulatory Torch Passes to Light-Touch Generation

FCC chairman Ajit Pai told a Mobile World Congress audience in Barcelona Tuesday that Title II reclassification was a mistake made under the previous generation that he expects to be corrected in this one.

He signaled to the international audience that the FCC would not be a zero reg zone but a light-touch reg zone where pro-competition policies were promoted, barriers lifted, and investments made in deploying broadband.

According to a copy of his speech, Pai told his audience that in the 1990s, policymakers had forged a "historic consensus" that the internet should be free of heavy handed regulation, which is what spurred innovation, the kind of environment that would be needed to spur 5G in the coming years.

But he said that two years ago – two years ago this week, in fact – the nation "deviated from our successful, light-touch approach," deciding instead to "apply last-century, utility-style regulation to today’s broadband networks."

That was the reclassification of ISPs as common carriers.

He said that was not done to solve any problems in the face of a "digital dystopia." Instead, he said, that previous light-touch approach "had produced both a free and open internet and strong incentives for private investment in broadband infrastructure."

Pai said that Title II move was clearly a mistake, injecting uncertainty into the market, which he called the enemy of growth. » Read More

Sen. Hatch Makes Reg-Free & Open Net a Tech Priority

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, has released what the task force billed as an Innovation Agenda for the new Congress and it backs a free an open internet: Free of burdensome government regs and open for business.

In the section on fostering a "modern and competitive and open internet," the agenda cites promoting private-sector broadband deployment and connectivity, increasing mobile access to licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and freeing the internet by “preserv[ing] the open, competitive nature of the internet against unnecessary government regulation while promoting continued development of innovative online services."

Among many other things, it calls for patent reform, reforming of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require a warrant for emails, protecting cross-border data flows, allowing high-skilled immigrants into the country, and a healthy helping of regulatory humility, which includes encouraging self-regulation.

The plan drew plenty of praise from the industry.

"We commend Sen. Hatch on his strong, bold and broad proposal to ensure our nation remains the global leader in innovation," said Consumer Technology Association President Gary Shapiro. "We are at a crossroads where we need a national strategy recognizing that innovation drives our economy and global leadership. Chairman Hatch's plan recognizes that innovation depends on nurturing, getting and keeping the best and brightest and a legal and regulatory system encouraging creativity and entrepreneurship.” » Read More

FCC's Pai on Broadcast TV: ‘Keep It Clean’

Ajit Pai gave his first TV interview as chairman of the FCC to Fox Business Network and said he would investigate indecency complaints against CBS, NBC or anyone else if they were presented to him.

Pai appeared Thursday on the 2 p.m. hour of The Intelligence Report with Trish Regan.

Regan cited an F-bomb on Saturday Night Live and Adele's F-bomb on the Grammys and asked if the FCC would be investigating them for "this kind of stuff."

"If we are presented with complaints, we are duty bound to enforce the law," he said, "and the law that is on the books today requires that broadcasters keep it clean so to speak." Pai said he took that FCC obligation seriously.

Actually, broadcasters are only required to do so at times when the FCC has determined that children are most likely to be in the audience, which is 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

But Pai did suggest he would be watching what broadcasters say on air, per FCC indecency rules on the books, adding: "[A]s a parent, I want to make sure that my kids have a wholesome experience when they are watching programs like that."

If the FCC did investigate those, it would likely not take any action given that (1) SNL airs after 10 p.m., when broadcasters can air profanity and nudity without repercussions beyond the input of their viewers, the latter of which is likely the reason broadcasters don't suddenly act like cable nets from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. when indecent content is not actionable, and (2) CBS spokesfolk told B&C that while Adele did indeed swear on the awards show, their tape delay caught it and it did not go over the airwaves. » Read More

Net Neutrality Is FCC's Third Busiest Docket

To establish a baseline for a promised flood of network neutrality comments to the FCC, as of Thursday, the proceeding was listed as the third most active proceeding in terms of comments with 178 comments in the past 30 days. Universal Service Fund comments and Lifeline subsidy compliance forms are the busiest dockets with over a thousand in each.

At a press conference this week, Senate Democrats urged fans of the FCC's Title II-based Open Internet order to flood the FCC with new comments in support given that Republican chairman Ajit Pai is a strong opponent of that reclassification.

The FCC received more than four million comments when the FCC was coming up with the last Open Internet order, a stat Democrats often cite in arguing that the rules have broad support and should not be rolled back. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said this week that given the new threat to the rules by Republicans, the new public outcry would make that look minuscule. » Read More

Pai: Commissioners Will Vote on Consent Decrees

FCC chairman Ajit Pai says the Enforcement Bureau will no longer get to sign off on consent decrees settling proposed forfeitures without the commissioners voting on them.

That was the latest in a series of process reforms the new chairman is implementing in his first few weeks in the center seat.

"I have instructed the Enforcement Bureau that starting today, any consent decree settling a Notice of Apparent Liability or Forfeiture Order issued by the full Commission must now be approved by a vote of the full Commission," said Pai. "This will help promote Commissioners’ involvement in and accountability for important enforcement decisions."

Pai said that over "the past few years" — that would be under a Democratic chair or chairs — rather than the full commission voting, the bureau chief has been signing off on the settlements at the direction of the chairman's office. Most recently that would have been chairman Tom Wheeler and Enforcement Bureau chief Travis LeBlanc.

"That process ends now," he said, by which he meant more than rhetorically. Pai said the reform was in force immediately. In fact, he said the bureau had just Wednesday circulated a consent decree for the commissioners' consideration that would conclude an investigation approved by the full commission. » Read More