Pai Pleases Broadcasters With Dereg Pledge

Alan Breznick
News Analysis
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
4/28/2017



LAS VEGAS Even before he called for the rollback of net neutrality rules on Wednesday, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had been doing his level best to make most of the communications and media tech industry very, very happy. (See Net Neutrality, Here We Go Again.)

Speaking at the NAB Show here earlier this week, for instance, Pai thrilled broadcasters by promising to push the next-gen TV transmission standard, overhaul the Commission's media regulations, take a fresh look at the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban and protect TV stations that now must move to new channel assignments because of the recent broadcast spectrum incentive auction, among other things. He also delighted broadcasters by making it clear that they have a friend in him, drawing a sustained round of applause from the standing-room-only crowd packed into the large convention center conference room.

"I want the US to lead the world in broadcasting, as it does in communications technology," Pai declared in his Tuesday keynote address. "Under my chairmanship, broadcasters won't be seen as a speed bump."

Seeking to quickly differentiate his agenda from that of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Pai pledged first to press forward aggressively with ATSC 3.0, the new TV transmission standard that will enable broadcasters to deliver a slew of advanced services to viewers, including ultra HD, web connectivity and other IP-based services without broadband connections. He said the Commission will proceed with "a voluntary, market-driven approach" to ATSC 3.0, rather than mandating its adoption by TV stations.

Next, Pai promised to launch a major review of the Commission's hundreds of media regulations next month, encompassing broadcast, cable and satellite TV rules. Noting that these rules run nearly 1,000 pages long and that many of them are "decades old," he said he expects to eliminate or at least modify many of them, including a World War II-era rule that requires TV stations to maintain a main studio in their communities of license for community access to station personnel and public files. He argued that such main studios were no longer needed in the age of the Internet and electronic filing.

In addition, Pai vowed to tackle the Commission's newspaper/TV station cross-ownership ban, which broadcasters have long railed against. Given the Internet's universal reach, he said, the local news market has irrevocably changed, making the old media cross-ownership rules potentially obsolete.

"Going forward, we're going to have a much more fact-based discussion about where our media ownership rules are and where they should be," he said. At last week's FCC public meeting, Pai also promised to take a fresh look at the Commission's national TV station ownership cap. (See Pai Picks Up Deregulatory Pace.)

Lastly, Pai said he would do all he can to keep the 987 TV stations that just sold spectrum from going dark as they switch channel assignments to make way for wireless carriers. Under the Commission's spectrum auction process, the stations have 39 months to make the transition to their new channel slots. "Obviously, we have a lot of work ahead of us," he said, pledging to work with both broadcasters and wireless carriers on the transition.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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