When Michael Powell was appointed FCC chairman earlier this year, the Commission was already under fire from several sides. Many people thought that Kennard's FCC would move the organization forward and show some genuine results with its actions. Unfortunately, Kennard came in with great expectations and left with unfulfilled promises.
When Powell was appointed, I felt that we may have been provided with a chairman that would bring some respect back to the commission; the same commission in which Congress had already lost faith, as evidenced by the passage of the Radio Preservation Act. We needed the FCC and its chairman to turn things around and take responsibility for past actions and inactions.
Powell has gotten into the thick of things by acting on three issues in which most broadcasters have a direct interest. The first item was the approval of several station ownership transfers. By attending to this act, the commission immediately reduced a backlog. This likely put the commission back on the good side of many broadcasters.
The next two items happened almost simultaneously and involve the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Broadcast Auxiliary Services (BAS), both of interest to broadcasters. The EAS NPRM addresses several issued raised by the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the National Weather Service and others. Key points include additional FIPS codes, additional and standardized alert codes, an increase in the relay period for required monthly tests and the addition of a text protocol. This NPRM won't fix everything, but it finally brings the item to the top of the list again.
The other action involves BAS, including studio-to-transmitter links (STL), remote pickup (RPU) frequencies, and a few other items. The main points here would change the rules to allow digital modulation for all BAS services and to re-allocate the BAS bands into smaller blocks to allow greater efficiency in their use. The specifics of these two actions can be found on the FCC website at the URLs listed here. I urge you to read these releases and file your comments with the FCC.
Powell had an on-stage conversation with the Cellular Technology and Internet Association president at the CTIA convention in March. Powell summed up the recent activity when he stated that the FCC is rethinking its business model, like any business should. He added, “We are in the process of reviewing the optimal organization and structure for the FCC and [will] be responsive in Internet time.”
What will set Powell apart from his predecessor are his comments about the FCC's activity to accelerate decision making and step up enforcement. Powell said, “We are putting increasing emphasis on an enforcement model as opposed to a regulatory model. When you cheat, we'll get you at the back end.” I hope that the new commissioners are willing to work with Powell and not against him to restore the reputation and value of the FCC.
Powell has also acknowledged that the FCC is understaffed with engineers. The FCC is feeling the same shortage that broadcasting already knows. In addition to hiring additional engineering staff, Powell wants the FCC attorneys to familiarize themselves with engineering and technical issues. The FCC currently has little more than 250 engineers out of a staff of about 2,000.
I think Powell has the makings of one of the best commissioners ever. He is stepping in and putting the wheels in motion, unlike the previous Chairman, whose actions lacked a clear focus based on current conditions and technology, but seemed to be based instead on political agendas.
On the Road:
Chriss will moderate two sessions at NAB:
International DAB Panel - April 22, 5:00pm
LVCC N249. The state of DAB around the world.
What You Missed at the Show - April 25, 9:00am
LVCC N240. It's a big show with lots to see.