FCC Steps Back from Pivotal Votes on Free Broadband, IBOC Digital Carrier Boost

December 31, 2008


Feeling the heat generated by irate telecom firms, new congressional committee leadership, and a scathing congressional report on his agency oversight, FCC Chair Kevin Martin decided last week to indefinitely postpone a scheduled agenda vote that included creation of free national broadband services and an IBOC digital radio power boost -- both issues of keen interest to broadcasters.

The decision to cancel the scheduled Dec. 18 meeting came after Martin's office received a letter co-authored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller and Rep. John Waxman, both Democrats headed for key chairmanships in their respective bodies of Congress.

Their message urged Martin to table the vote until the new administration had an opportunity to review complex and controversial issues on the agenda.

But Democrats were not alone in red-flagging the vote. Bush Administration officials reportedly asked the commission to forestall their decision on free broadband as wireless providers AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint complained that such a move would damage their ability to build out their respective 3G/4G networks.

How a new, democratically led FCC will deal with the proposed HD digital power increase as well as other hot-button issues such as broadcast music performance royalties and localism isn't yet clear. But Waxman's appointment in particular is seen as a sign that a tougher regulatory environment awaits broadcasters.

On the issue of universal wireless broadband, reports suggest that the incoming Obama administration and democratically controlled congress appear to favor an even more sweeping approach than the one on which the Commission was to vote, perhaps as part of a broad new national infrastructure spending initiative.


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