Fwd: Communications-related Headlines for 10/13/98

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Thu, 15 Oct 1998 08:38:02 -0700

>Issue: DBS/Public Interest
>The Federal Communications Commission is expected to propose public interest
>obligations for digital broadcast providers by the end of this month.
>Commissioners are currently reviewing a staff proposal that would require
>DBS companies to set aside 4% of channel capacity for public interest
>programming. The Cable Act of 1992 instructed the FCC to require DBS
>providers to set aside 4-7 percent of their channel capacity. While many
>public interest advocates argue that more capacity should be set aside, Gigi
>Sohn, executive director of the Media Access Project, say that 4% is a good
>start: "I can live with the lower number as long as the FCC is willing to
>revisit the issue in the future." Other contentious issues include questions
>of weather DBS providers will be able to choose the programming and if so,
>will for-profit channels, such as The Learning Channel, count as "public
>interest" programs.
>[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable (p.19), AUTHOR: Bill McConnell]
>Issue: Public TV
>Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La), Chairman of the House Telecommunications
>Subcommittee, has proposed a bill that would give public broadcasters more
>operating money in the next year and help them develop a plan for stable,
>long term funding for the next century. Although the public broadcast
>community was pleased with most aspects of the bill, there is concern about
>Rep. Tauzin's requirements that one station must be sold in markets where
>PBS stations overlap. Public Broadcasters are also not enthusiastic about
>the proposal to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create
>a permanent money pool to fund PBS stations.
>[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable (p.24), AUTHOR: Paige Albiniak]
>Issues: Broadcasting/Ownership
>Last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted to waive it's
>"one-to-a-market" rule that prohibits companies from owning radio-TV
>combinations in the same markets. Chairman William Kennard, along with
>commissioners Gloria Tristani and Susan Ness, pledged to revamp the
>Commission's ownership rules before year's end.
>[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable (p.27), AUTHOR: Bill McConnell]
>Issues: DTV
>People have begun to discover that there are even bargains when it come to
>digital broadcasting. WITF-TV, a PBS affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa., is
>borrowing equipment from Harris and Emcee to prove that lower powered
>stations can make the transition to digital with out going broke. For less
>than $300,000, WITF-TV will be able to purchase the entire transmission
>system that is on loan to it now. With costs lower than expected, more
>public and independent stations might be able survive the transition.
>[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable (p.71), AUTHOR: Karen Anderson]

Issue: Internet
The most popular export of tiny Tuvalu may be its Internet domain name. TV
Corp. of Toronto has announced it has permission to sell licenses for domain
names ending in ".tv" which is the country code of the group of nine atolls
in the South Pacific. The effort of TV Corp. will be to promote the suffix
to media companies. In addition to the generic top-level domain names, 236
two-letter country codes were created for nations. The use of Tuvalu's
suffix will not be cheap. Registration and renewals will cost $1,000 and
$500 per year respectively. Currently domain names ending in ".com," ".net"
and "org" are registered by Network Solutions, Inc. for $119 for two years.
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B8), AUTHOR: Jason Fry]

Issue: Digital TV
Joel Brinkley describes his experience as "the only civilian in the nation"
with HDTV. He sums it up in two words: mesmerizing and frustrating. The
digital TV sets are huge -- 4 feet by four feet huge (some bigger than
that). They can receive both analog and digital programming, but are
optimized for digital -- which can be annoying because the monitor is shaped
more like a movie screen than a TV screen. Reception of digital signals over
the air are tricky, but the results are immediately obvious: "It doesn't
simply offer a clearer, sharper picture. Color rendition is vastly
improved." Even though the picture was much sharper, the early sets cannot
display full-resolution HDTV yet. Brinkley was watching broadcasts from WHD,
an experimental station in Washington, DC. There isn't much digital TV
content yet, however, so he saw a lot of promotional tapes that stations
around the country have produced to demonstrate HDTV. As the only viewer,
Brinkley called the station and requested a movie. The station played
Sleepless in Seattle and "it looked splendid -- bright and crystal clear."
Digital TV broadcasts will start around the country November 1.
[SOURCE: New York Times (D1), AUTHOR: Joel Brinkley]

Issue: Merger
Five months after the federal government sued to stop a $1 billion dollar
satellite TV deal, the two parties have agreed to call it off. At issue was
use of the last remaining satellite slot for providing direct broadcast TV
service (DBS) to the continental U.S. MCI and News Corporation's American
Sky Broadcasting (ASkyB) own the slot. ASkyB would have been transferred to
Primestar Inc. under the merger giving Primestar the ability to double the
number of channels it could broadcast and to send programming to the 18-inch
dishes used by its rivals. Primestar Partners which has more than 2 million
satellite TV customers is owned by the five largest cable companies.
Yesterday News Corp. and Primestar called off the deal. The government's
suit was scheduled for trial in February. A Justice Department official
called the decision "a big win for consumers" and said "it will ultimately
mean lower prices, more innovation and better service and quality."
[SOURCE: Washington Post (C1), AUTHOR: Paul Farhi & Mike Mills]
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B14), AUTHOR: John Lippman]

Issue: Television
In July 1974, more than 7 out of 10 homes tuned in for one or more committee
sessions as Congress weighed impeachment of President Nixon. Broadcasters
are uncertain if they will air impeachment hearings this time around. "Gosh,
I wish I knew," said Lane Venardos, executive producer of special events at
CBS News. "We don't know if they'll be a week, two weeks, a month, or a
series of months of excruciating detail that will make your head hurt. Not
much is known about this." Even PBS which ran around-the-clock coverage in
'74 is not sure how much coverage it will make available: "it's a totally
different world now," a PBS spokesperson said. True -- in 1974 the broadcast
networks owned the world of television then. Now 50% of the television
audience watches cable networks. If broadcasters let cable provide the
coverage, however, what about the 30% of households that don't have cable?
"The only thing we can say for sure is we see it (the hearing) as a very,
very serious deliberation...and we'll cover it as thoroughly and completely
as we can," said Bob Murphy, senior vice president of hard news at ABC News.
"This is a constitutional process that has only been done two other times.
You can't state it any other way than in serious
terms," Murphy said. "Would we do wall-to-wall every day? I would say that
will be unlikely," said Wheatley. "But there probably would be particular
times when it is newsworthy."
[SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (Sec 3, p.1), AUTHOR: Tim Jones]

Issue: Copyright
The House and Senate have reached agreement on a compromise version of the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
<ftp://ftp.loc.gov/pub/thomas/c105/h2281.ih.txt">http://ftp://ftp.loc.gov/pub/thomas/c105/h2281.ih.txt>. The bill is
designed to implement World Intellectual Property Organization
<http://www.wipo.org> treaties for protecting music, software and written
works on the Internet. But the bill goes farther than those 1996 WIPO
agreements, making it illegal to circumvent technologies used to protect
digital works. "Congress could have, if it really wanted to strike a balance
in the most even-handed way, said, 'Okay, we're going to make it illegal for
someone to go through these digital wrappers... for the intent of what we
would call digital piracy,'" said Adam Eisgrau, legislative counsel for the
American Library Association in Washington. "They could have said, 'But you
are permitted to go through a digital wrapper if you are doing something
other than digital piracy. What we ended up with, is that it is illegal,
flat out, to go through a digital wrapper."
[SOURCE: New York Times (CyberTimes), AUTHOR: Matt Lake]

Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley, CA 94720-6000

"You are looking into the mind of home video. It is innocent, it is aimless,
it is determined, it is real" --Don DeLillo, Underworld