Telecom headlines

Gary Handman (
Mon, 1 Mar 1999 11:52:26 -0800 (PST)


Issue: Telecommunications
Chairman Kennard's Remarks before the NARUC Winter Meeting in Washington,
DC: Like you, I feel enormously privileged to be involved with the telecom
industry now as we begin these historic transformations from an analog age
to a digital one; from a world of monopoly to a world of competition; and
from an era of basic services to an era of convergence. This technological
transformation began in our nation's labs and universities. It began with
the hard work and vision of people willing to take risks on new ideas and
new technologies. And it began because government created the opportunities
for scientists and entrepreneurs to take these chances. Indeed, our
contribution to this communications revolution has been our privilege, our
responsibility to follow through on the wishes of Congress in implementing
the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In drafting this bill, the foundational
document for the competitive, high-tech world to come, Congress reached back
to one our oldest values: choice.

Issue: FCC/Regulation
Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth's Remarks to the Federal Communications Bar
Association: Most Americans, though, do not understand Washington beyond the
passing images of a few famous people on television. Most have never been to
Washington, or even know anyone in Washington. It is a very distant city.
These Americans have never heard of the FCC or the FCBA. When they have a
communications problem, they don't call you or me. They don't know we exist.
They may not know that some communications problems are created and solved
in Washington. Or to the extent they know, they may believe that they have
no capacity to be listened to in Washington beyond
the anonymity of a phone call, letter, or e-mail to an unknown recipient in
Washington. But these ordinary Americans, these mere citizens, have voices.
Voices that can get angry at times.... I
would like to give that answer. Begin by saying that the FCC is an agency
that simply follows the federal communications law as written by Congress.
More specifically , the FCC should follow the law narrowly as it is written
in statute, consistent with the Constitution and with court decisions. We at
the FCC are law-followers, not lawmakers. We are merely regulators with
limited power conferred by statute. Moreover, we do not even make "policy."
Congress sets federal telecommunications policy. It is our duty to follow
it....If we at the FCC lack the specific authority to force an individual,
company, or industry to do something in one area, we must
not threaten action in a different area where we actually do have power, in
order to achieve the same result. All too often, I have seen the threat of
regulation in one area used to influence decisions in another area. In my
view, this is outside the law. I don't believe that the ordinary American
could fathom how a police officer in their home town could decide whether to
give a car a parking ticket based on whether or not the owner was appealing
an unrelated speeding ticket. The Commission must also abide by the
Administrative Procedure Act and its requirements for open and transparent
rulemakings: No decisions behind closed doors; An agency open and
transparently visible to all Americans; An agency with no secret documents
or secret rules. Open process is something ordinary Americans understand....
How should we explain discretion to
ordinary Americans? First, have humility about the power of regulation.
Second, keep it simple and predictable. Third, where there is discretion,
let governmental decisions be made as close to the people as possible.
Fourth, where regulation is required by law, try to make sure that benefits
significantly exceed the costs. Fifth, view new technology as an opportunity
to reduce, not to expand, regulation.


Issue: Broadcast/Satellite TV
In order to avoid the court ordered shut-off of satellite signals of network
broadcasting to viewers, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) will introduce a bill this
week that would allow satellite-TV viewers to continue receiving the network
signal until the Federal Communication Commission can decide on a fair standard
in determining eligibility. The battle began when CBS and Fox complained that
PrimeTime 24, a satellite-TV carrier, was illegally packaging their broadcasts
and sending them to viewers. Miami federal court ordered a shut-off for 700,000
subscribers by this Sunday and another 1.5 by April 30. In other legislation,
to avoid the shut-off, the Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to approve a
bill today that would resolve the copyright problem facing satellite-TV
servers. Senate Commerce Committee is set to vote on a bill next Wednesday,
introduced by Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), that would allow satellite carriers
to retransmit network signals locally. Meanwhile, DirecTV, the largest
satellite-carrier in the country is trying to avoid the court-ordered shut-off
by no longer using PrimeTime 24, but providing network programs themselves. A
DirecTV spokesman said, "That way, we are no longer under the court order,
which applies only to PrimeTime 24." Not so fast--four major networks plan on
asking the court to impose a temporary restraining order against the move.
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B2), AUTHOR: Kathy Chen]
See also:
[SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News, AUTHOR: Jon Healey]


Issue: Satellite
House and Senate committees are holding three hearings on satellite TV
reform in the next few days. Additionally, House Subcommittee on Courts and
Intellectual Property Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) will introduce in the
House a bill similar to the Senate bill introduced by Senate Judiciary
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) last month. Senator Hatch's bill
reduces satellite TV companies' copyright rates and extends satellite TV
companies' copyright licenses for five years. A hearing is scheduled
Thursday on the House bill. On Tuesday Senate Commerce Committee Chairman
John McCain (R-AZ) is holding a hearing on a bill he introduced last
month. House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA)
is holding a hearing on Wednesday with an array of witnesses, including
Deborah Lathen, chief of the FCC's Cable Services Bureau, but apparently
does not plan to bring out a bill until late March. This flurry of activity
is the result of customer complaints following a federal court ruling last
year which requires satellite TV companies to cut off imported CBS and Fox
signals to 1.2 million satellite TV subscribers by April 30.
[SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable (p.17), AUTHOR: Paige Albiniak & Bill McConnell]

Issue: Satellite
Starting Sunday, a court has ordered satellite companies to stop providing
CBS and Fox network broadcasts to about 700,000 dish owners. A second wave
of court-mandated cutoffs is scheduled to begin by April 30. Broadcasters
have successfully complained to two courts and the Federal Communications
Commission that the satellite industry is illegally beaming network programs
to customers who should be able to receive network TV programs from local
stations. Local stations argue that they are losing ad revenue and viewers
to what they see as an illegal competitor. While the current order to drop
service involves only CBS and Fox, NBC and ABC have joined in a second suit
asking similar relief. Dish owners have expressed their discontent at losing
the service to their Congressional representatives. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
has responded with proposed legislation that would allow satellite viewers
within the outer boundaries of a TV market to continue getting our-of-market
network shows for six months.
[SOURCE: Washington Post (A1), AUTHOR: Paul Farhi]


Issue: Censorship
A product that screens foul language from TV and videos has two settings:
tolerant and strict. When demonstrating the product on the strict setting,
inventor Rick Bray found that a reference to actor Dick Van Dyke turned into,
"Jerk Van Gay." TV Guardian is less intrusive than the V-Chip, Bray says,
because "families can still watch TV programs and movies that might otherwise
be blocked off." Mr. Bray programmed the device to read closed-captioned
information from a TV broadcast or video and mute every dirty word he could
think of and choosing replacement words, such as "witch" and "idiot." For words
that were too dirty for Mr. Bray to come up with, he consulted the Internet for
profanity dictionaries. He hired a Kansas City (MO) engineering firm to
create a
small, low-cost computer that would run the program. A small black box that
fits between TV and VCR and costs $150 was the result. Bray and his partner
Mike Seals hope to license the product to be built directly into TV's and VCR's
and eventually consumers will be able to choose what words to mute and add
their own replacement words. They recently signed a deal to sell a
private-label version in religious bookstores.
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal (B6), AUTHOR: Evan Ramstad]


Issue: Arts
Director of the Nation Endowment for the Arts, William Ivey, discussed his
plans for the $150 million that President Clinton has requested for the
agency. The President's budget proposal includes a $52 million increase over
the endowment's current budget. Most of the additional money is earmarked
for a special program, Challenge America, intended to distribute funds more
evenly across the country. The money is planed for arts education, access to
the arts, cultural and heritage preservation, and community arts
partnerships. There are fears, however, that a spending increase for the
arts might not be well received by a Congress that has cut the agency's
budget by 40% over the past several years. But Ivey is hopeful that the
"bipartisan center will support an increase."
[SOURCE: New York Times (B1), AUTHOR: Bruce Weber]


Issue: Broadcast/Television
In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the
Department's National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) [on Feb 12]
reiterates the importance of viewpoint diversity, localism and competition
for our nation's broadcast ownership policies.
"In light of the unprecedented level of media concentration in today's media
marketplace, NTIA urges the FCC to act decisively to preserve the core
principles of viewpoint diversity embodied in the First Amendment as well as
the fundamental values of localism and competition," Assistant Secretary of
Commerce Larry Irving said. The NTIA letter recommends a framework by which
to analyze whether proposed changes to the ownership rules further the
public interest. Applying this framework to the national and local ownership
rules currently under review by the FCC, NTIA
concludes that wholesale changes would harm the public interest, but
supports moderate relaxation in specific areas. See letter at

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