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www.SkyReport.com - used with permissionSkyBOX: Forecasting The Telecomm Future
by Evie Haskell, Mediabiz.com
So it's now post-Thanksgiving and we're giving thanks that the fine folks at C-SPAN are running a nice little interview series known as The Communicators. The basic idea behind the series is that, considering the giant upheavals now roiling media industries, things like telecommunications reform, regulation, legislation and even just general blathering are of some import ... and maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea to pay attention. (C-SPAN is great at this paying-attention stuff and, given the business we're all in, it seems like paying attention to telecommunications thoughts on the Hill might indeed be a good idea.)
Anyway, the post-Thanksgiving turkey-stuffing-cranberry-green-bean-pumpkin-pie bloat is not exactly conducive to column writing. Thus we were especially grateful to note that the current Communicators show features interviewer Susan Swain discussing the current state of the FCC, media ownership and such with Progress & Freedom Foundation senior fellow Adam Thierer. (To catch the show, tune in tonight on C-SPAN 2 at 8 p.m.) We decided that discussing things with a talking head (especially one that can't talk back) might be a good deal easier than writing a column, so here is a quick look at a few of Thierer's key points on telecommunications reform and (of course) our take on his takes.
Point #1: The Democratic wave will not grind all things telecommunications to a halt on the Hill ... but don't look for franchise reform anywhere in the near future. (And don't think it really matters, either.)
Says Thierer: "Telecommunications and media policy traditionally aren't as partisan as other issues. But there's really not the appetite for comprehensive communications reform on the Hill right now and things don't look good for reform in the franchise rules."
Of course, as Thierer readily notes, this may not matter that much. As more states and local areas change their own franchise processes, making it easier for telcos to offer video services and sometimes (but not always) offering tit-for-tat rule changes for cable, the fed's blessing becomes a tad beside the point.
Point #2: Media ownership rules could change. If, if, if .... "Media ownership might get resolved," Thierer says, "if (FCC commissioner Kevin) Martin gets the votes on the Republican side lined up."
As Thierer points out, the commission is (finally) full-up with commissioners (tilted to the red, as per the White House) thus motion forward on ownership rules is possible. Martin is taking a fairly narrow approach on the issue, however, and the most likely change across the next year will involve only newspaper and broadcaster cross-ownership.
Point #3: The really important question for the future likely revolves around the reallocation and regulation of wireless services.
Says Thierer, "Spectrum reform policies are the most important" issues now before Congress. Currently, he says, "We have a very inefficient use of spectrum" but once the broadcasters convert to all digital services (a milestone slated for February 2009) an opportunity for true reform will raise its head as analog spectrum reverts back to the federal government. (Well, we hope it does, but that's another discussion ...)
At any rate, in Thierer's view, entities controlling wireless spectrum should be allowed to use that spectrum for whatever services they deem most in demand. This seems reasonable IF the spectrum holders have in fact paid for their use of the spectrum. But should broadcasters, who have been granted free spectrum to use for the "public good," be able to reuse or even sell their spectrum for other services? It's a knotty question ... and one we're sure they'll be tackling on The Communicators in future shows. (Maybe even in time for the upcoming post-Christmas turkey-stuffing-cranberry-green-bean-pumpkin-pie ....)