The Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television
Broadcasters discussed two draft proposals of recommendations at the
Committee's meeting Tuesday, April 14. Below is a summary of the proposal
offered by Robert Decherd of A.H. Belo Corp.
The proposal lays out two frameworks:
1) Deregulation of the Television Industry
* Intense and ever-increasing competition in the information
marketplace will force broadcasters to offer high-quality, original,
locally-oriented programming that serves the public interest.
* Greater competition in the information marketplace eliminates any
need for government intervention.
* Localism is the biggest competitive advantage for TV stations.
* Burdensome Government regulation is not needed because television
broadcast licensees are already champions of public interest programming.
- Broadcasters are already excel at providing quality public
service programming: Belo filed a study that quantifies "non-entertainment"
programming in 17 Belo markets. They measured the amount of news, public
affairs, instructional, children's, and religious programming available in
these markets. This non-entertainment programming accounts for ~15%-32% of
the total programming of ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX affiliates in those 17 markets.
- Some stations voluntarily give federal candidates "free time."
- Fees for ancillary and supplementary digital services can help
fund public broadcasting.
2) Continue with the Existing Regulatory Regime:
* Unlike competing information providers, TV stations are subject to
substantial public interest obligations and direct government regulation.
*The proposal lists five obligations of broadcasters: programming
responsive to community needs, political broadcasting rules, children's
programming, closed captioning, and content restrictions.
* In Belo's view, there is no identifiable need for further
burdensome regulation of television program content.
- The Government can't regulate program quality.
- Smaller, independent broadcasters can ill-afford added public
- Added public interest obligations place broadcasters at a
- In light of changes in the mass media marketplace,
content-oriented public interest obligations are constitutionally suspect.
* The Digital Spectrum "Give-Away" is a Myth
- Broadcasters are not being given free second channels.
- Broadcasters must invest billions to convert to DTV.
- Broadcasters must offer free DTV.
- DTV will not expand television markets or enlarge potential
- No "Give-Away" should mean no new public interest obligations.
* Existing regulatory requirements are adequate to ensure the
continuing availability of public interest programming responsive to
community concerns. There is no evidence to suggest that the imposition of
additional regulatory burdens will have any appreciable impact on TV
stations' present incentives to address the information needs of viewers.
The Belo proposal goes on to make recommendations about expanding
educational programming in the digital age.
*Public broadcast stations should retain a second 6MHz channel in
each market primarily for educational programming.
- In each market, the PBS station would retain its "transition"
- PBS would use the second channel for educational programming.
- Fees charged by the FCC for ancillary and supplementary services
provided by broadcasters should be funneled to public TV.
- Fees would be passed through to the Corporation for public
- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Would Administer the funds.
* The additional spectrum would also be utilized for public access
by independent program producers, free air time for political candidates,
and other non-entertainment public interest purposes.
- A second PBS channel would allow public access by myriad program
- A second PBS channel could be used to provide free air time to
A summary of yesterday's meeting will be posted on Benton's website at
<http://www.benton.org/Policy/TV/meeting5.html>. A summary of the proposal
offered by Gigi Sohn of the Media Access Project will be posted to the
listserv later today.
If you would like to offer the Committee comments on either proposal, you
can do so by email by sending a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org> (Subject:
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