Barring a last minute delay to work out messy details, the FCC will hold its regularly scheduled monthly open meeting tomorrow, July 13. Two items are likely of interest to readers here.
First, the FCC will decide whether to approve the proposed acquisition of Adelphia cable by Time Warner and Comcast and accompanying system swaps between Time Warner and Comcast. Approval will give Comcast and Time Warner control of the majority of cable lines in the country, and will create regionally concentrated blocks of cable companies on par with the regional control traditionally exercised by the baby bells.
That the FCC will approve the merger appears certain. That it will impose some conditions (no mean feat after the Federal Trade Commission refused to take action last January) also seems certain. Exactly what conditions it will impose remains unclear. The press has reported that the draft version of the order circulated by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin contained only a limited condition requiring Comcast and Time Warner to make some of its regional sports network (RSN) programing available. Commissioners Copps and Adelstien, the two Democrats, continue to press for network neutrality conditions greater to, or at least equal to, what the FCC imposed in the Bell mergers last year. Other issues up for grabs include the long-standing complaint by MASN, which owns the TV rights to the Washington Nationals, that Comcast has refused to carry Nationals games because it wants an ownership stake, complants by RCN that Comcast has used its market power to deprive it of PBS Kids/Sprout video on demand programming (see my previous entry on the subject), complaints by the America Channel (a would-be network) that Comcast and TW killed its deal with Adelphia for carriage because Comcast and TW only want to run affiliated programming networks, and general complants by independent programmers.
How this comes out has huge implications for how Americans watch TV and get residential broadband. This is the first major merger with a full Commission since Kevin Martin took over as chair. Will they continue to deregulatory approach of Michael Powell? Or will they be more willing to impose conditions to protect competition? You can bet folks will read the tea leaves from this meeting pretty thoroughly to guess what is likely to happen with the proposed AT&T/BellSouth merger. Strong conditions seem likely to discourage future major deals as an indicator that the FCC has reached a limit on the levels of concentration it will easily approve, while weak conditions will likely invite further consolidation.
The other issue of relevance to folks here is the Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) Radio item. For those new to this, the FCC has begun a process of transitioning AM and FM radio to digital, similar to the TV trasition — but under its own authority rather than Congressional authority and giving an even bigger windfall to terrestrial broadcasters.
Jim Snider of New America Foundation has a pretty good summary of what is going on and how it constitutes a huge giveaway of spectrum to full power terrestrial broadcasters here.
Some folks may remember DAB from two years ago, when the FCC proposed adding a radio broadcast flag to complement the television broadcast flag. Happily, in light of the DC Cir. decision last year, that won't happen. But we can still expect to see a lot of happy radio broadcasters at the end of the day.
Folks interested in listening to the Commission's meeting can go to the FCC's video/audio events page at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 13 and stream the meeting. Because the FCC has pathetic capacity, you may wish to view the archive afterwards (or even attend in person, if you are in the DC metro area; the FCC is at 445 12th St., SW, and you will need a drivers license or some other government i.d. to get inside).