Fwd: The Digital Beat v.1 no. 1

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 11:17:38 -0800 (PST)

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>Subject: The Digital Beat v.1 no. 1
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>The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation
><www.benton.org>. Our aim is to equip you to be engaged in the public debate
>on the public interest in digital television and the Internet. We will
>chronicle the action at the Federal Communications Commission and in
>Congress, the efforts of public interest advocates, the work of nonprofit
>organizations and government agencies to create new public services,
>technology developments, and communications trends. Let us know how we can
>serve you better.
>Benton houses the legacy of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public
>Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters
><www.benton.org/PIAC> and is committed to using its report and
>recommendations as a starting point for achieving access, diversity, equity,
>and education in the new media. Contributors to The Digital Beat include the
>Media Access Project (MAP) and the Center for Media Education (CME).
>The Digital Beat 2/18/99
> Administration Proposes Spectrum Fees for Commercial
> Television Broadcasters
> Broadcasters: "That's Sheer Folly"
> Advocates Debunk Broadcasters' Claims
> Response from Congress: It's Dead On Arrival
> The Action Agenda: Time to Hear From You
>Administration Proposes Spectrum Fees for Commercial Television Broadcasters
>Without much coverage in the mainstream press, but meeting much rancor in
>the trade press, the Administration's Federal budget for fiscal year 2000
>(FY2000) includes a proposal to set a lease fee on commercial television
>broadcasters' use of spectrum for analog broadcasting. Starting in 1999 many
>television stations will begin use a dual license to provide both analog and
>digital television broadcasts. In April 1997, the Federal Communications
>Commission adopted the plan to convert to digital television without
>charging broadcasters for the use of additional spectrum as prescribed by
>the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
>The lease fee is projected to raise $200 million annually in the years 2000
>through 2004. Analog television broadcasts could end as early as 2006. The
>fees would apply for as long as broadcasters hold on to the analog portion
>of their license. The $1 billion or more in fees would fund programs in the
>Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of
>the Interior to expand and upgrade public safety wireless communications
>across Indian reservations and to ensure the interoperability of State and
>local public safety communications systems.
>Although many users have paid for the right to use spectrum through
>auctions, the Administration's proposal would mark the first time television
>station owners would have to pay any spectrum fees. And, although the
>Administration targets the revenues for wireless communications, the
>recommendations of the President's Advisory Committee on Public Interest
>Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (PIAC) highlighted many
>funding needs that relate to television: supporting public broadcasters,
>noncommercial programming, and independent producers. In each viewing
>market, new channels would be set aside for cradle-to-the-grave educational
>programming. This programming would be developed by coalitions of community
>organizations like schools, libraries and universities. Its particular focus
>would be the unmet needs and underserved communities of the market.
>Broadcasters: "That's Sheer Folly"
>In response, National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Eddie
>Fritts said, "The Clinton administration proposal would jeopardize a
>public-private partnership between government and free, over-the-air local
>broadcasters that dates back to the 1934 Communications Act. The deal is
>this: that broadcasters provide community interest and public service
>programming in exchange for a small slice of the spectrum.
>"Last year alone, NAB documented that broadcasters voluntarily provided $6.8
>billion in annual public service programming and fundraising for local
>charities, making broadcasters the nation's Number One provider of public
>service. To suggest that $6.8 billion in public service is somehow
>inadequate for use of a sliver of the spectrum is nothing short of sheer
>folly." [see <http://www.nab.org/Statements/s0299.htm>]
>The NAB's report "Bringing Community Service Home: A National Report on the
>Broadcast Industry's Community Service"
><http://www.ntia.doc.gov/pubintadvcom/aprmtg/NAB.pdf>, however, totals $6.8
>billion as the contribution of all radio and television broadcasters and
>broadcast networks. Local television stations deliver just a fraction of the
>total -- projected at $2 billion at most. (This from an industry that has
>profit margins of 20-40%) And not all of this total is in programming --
>just $1.12 billion is projected in public service announcements (the
>majority of which run between midnight and 6am); and perhaps $20 million per
>year is free time for candidates.
>Advocates Debunk Broadcasters' Claims
>"Bringing Community Service Home" was presented to PIAC at a meeting in
>April 1998 and assailed by a Committee member as being statistically biased.
>University Chicago Professor Cass Sunstein suggested the survey results
>would not be publishable in a peer review journal.
>A report released at the same time by the Benton Foundation and the Media
>Access Project, "What's Local About Local Television"
><http://www.benton.org/Policy/TV/whatslocal.html>, found that many stations
>were not delivering basic public interest programming like local news and
>local public affairs. The survey of five television markets over a two week
>period found the following:
>* In the five markets combined, 40 commercial broadcasters provided 13,250
>total hours of programming -- just 0.35% (46.5 hours) were devoted to local
>public affairs.
>* In three markets -- Nashville, Tennessee, Spokane, Washington, and Bangor,
>Maine -- not one commercial station aired any local public affairs
>* 35% of the stations surveyed provide no local news; 25% offer neither
>local public affairs programming or local news.
>* A total of two hours of local public affairs programming was available
>between 6:00pm and midnight, when viewership numbers are highest. Just two
>stations aired any local public affairs during this time period.
>Public interest advocates favor strong obligations for broadcasters -- like
>those proposed by PIAC (see <http://www.benton.org/PIAC>) -- that address
>the educational needs of the communities that broadcasters are licensed to
>serve. If broadcasters don't deliver the programming, advocates argue thy
>should pay others -- like public television -- to do so. A recent poll by
>the Benton Foundation and the Project on Media Ownership (PROMO) found that
>Americans overwhelming support such requirements on commercial television
>station owners:
>* 71% of Americans have no idea that broadcasters receive free access to the
>airwaves to provide digital television.
>* 54% of Americans who are informed that broadcasters receive free access to
>the airwaves, support charging broadcasters for additional airwaves they may
>need -- especially if the money is used for more educational programming.
>* 80% of those polled favor requiring broadcasters to meet additional public
>service obligations such as more children's educational programming and more
>local programming.
>Response from Congress: It's Dead On Arrival
>At this time, it is uncertain what exactly Congress expects from
>broadcasters. To the Administration's proposal, a spokesperson for House
>Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) said, "When
>that proposal reaches us, we're gonna shovel dirt on it and give it a decent
>burial, since it's already D.O.A." In a February 8 article, MediaWeek
>asserted: This proposal is aimed at the heart of the most basic broadcasting
>right - the right to the spectrum without a tax or fee.
>Of course, this depends on whose rights you are considering. In a landmark,
>unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court, Justice Byron White wrote, "the
>people as a whole retain their interest in free speech by radio and their
>collective right to have the medium function consistently with the ends and
>purposes of the First Amendment. It is the right of the viewers and
>listeners ... which is paramount."
>The Action Agenda: Time to Hear From You
>No matter the staying power of the Administration's proposal, a review of
>television station owners' obligations will begin in coming months using the
>recommendations of PIAC as a baseline. At stake is the definition of "in the
>public interest, convenience, and necessity" in the digital age. We invite
>you to prepare your own answer to this definition and to ask what we expect
>from the most powerful medium of the 20th century as we embark on the 21st.
>Our answers -- and our ability to let the Administration, the Congress, and
>the Federal Communications Commission know what they are -- will determine
>the future of television.
>In March, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to begin a
>formal proceeding to define the compact between television stations and the
>communities they are licensed to serve. Using the PIAC recommendations as a
>baseline, the FCC will be asking the public if broadcasters should provide
>additional educational programming on the increased capacity that digital
>television offers them, should broadcasters provide more coverage of
>elections and local public affairs, should they work with local communities
>before to determine what issues should be addressed in the programming, can
>programming be made accessible to the disabled community and can the
>viewpoints of minorities and independent producers be aired? In addressing
>all these questions, the FCC will also ask, can broadcasters be trusted to
>meet this obligation voluntarily or will there be a need for regulation?
>The decision makers in this process are:
>* Chairman William Kennard
>* Commissioner Susan Ness <http://www.fcc.gov/commissioners/ness/>
>* Commissioner Michael Powell <http://www.fcc.gov/commissioners/powell/>
>* Commissioner Gloria Tristani <http://www.fcc.gov/commissioners/tristani/>
>* Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth
>Each provides the opportunity to share your views through their webpages.
>Don't hesitate to let them know what you expect from their proceeding and
>what you believe is a fair exchange for broadcasters free use of spectrum.
>Congress is also expected to review PIAC's recommendations in the coming
>months -- most likely through hearings in the:
>* Senate Commerce Committee <http://www.senate.gov/~commerce/>, chaired by
>Sen John McCain (R-AZ) <http://www.senate.gov/~mccain/>, and
>* House Telecommunications Subcommittee, chaired by Rep Billy Tauzin
>The ranking members of these committees are:
>* Sen Ernest Hollings (D-SC) <http://www.senate.gov/~hollings/> and
>* Rep Edward Markey (D-MA)<http://www.house.gov/markey/>.
>The tone of their reception of PIAC's recommendations will signal Congress'
>support for FCC action.
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication -- both
>internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message. This
>publication can be found online at <http://www.benton.org/Updates>.
>The Benton Foundation's Communications Policy and Practice Project
><http://www.benton.org/cpphome.html> is a nonpartisan initiative to
>strengthen public interest efforts in shaping the emerging National
>Information Infrastructure (NII). It is Benton's conviction that the
>vigorous participation of the nonprofit sector in policy debates and
>demonstration projects will help realize the public interest potential of
>the NII.
>Media Access Project (MAP) <http://www.mediaaccess.org>, is the only
>freestanding public interest law firm which is primarily devoted to
>representing the public's interest on electronic media issues through policy
>advocacy at the Federal Communications Commission and the Courts, advocacy
>in the media and other public fora, and day-to-day counseling of civic
>organizations and individuals.
>The Center for Media Education (CME) <http://www.cme.org/> is a national
>non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of electronic
>media, especially on the behalf of children and families.
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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