The FCC’s Three Ring Circus

That’s what I get for taking a month-long hiatus: the FCC goes all P.T. Barnum on our ass, in hopes of making suckers of us all.

In the center ring is the agency’s proposed changes to media ownership regulations. After hinting that he wished to ram through major changes allowing broad consolidation by the end of the year, and hustling to finish public hearings on the subject over the last month, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin – in a highly unusual move – published his own proposal to modify only the regulation that restricts cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in a single market. Unfortunately, as noted by the minority Commissioners, this proposed change contains loopholes that would effectively do away with the cross-ownership ban, while keeping its regulatory shell on the books. This has irked members of Congress, many of whom are threatening to legislatively intervene if the FCC moves on any media ownership rule changes before the end of the year. Read More

Kevin Martin, Unfunnyman

Sometimes politicians couch the truth in humor. This typically happens when they converge for one of their pat-on-the-back dinners, where they’re surrounded by like-minded friends. Events like the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner come to mind.

In the world of communications policymaking, the hubris-fest happens during the annual dinner of the Federal Communications Bar Association – the cadre of specialized lawyers who grease the Federal Communications Commission’s wheels to keep their clients happy. Headlining this year’s dinner was FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who, by all reports, was quite a crowd-pleaser.

Check some of his jokes, as reported by Broadcasting & Cable: Read More

Clear Channel Buyout Update

The wheels are well in motion to take Clear Channel private. Shareholders will vote on the deal March 21. They’re being offered $37.60 for each share of stock they own, which is about a dollar and small change more than it’s currently trading for, and near the 52-week high, though just 41% of what CCU stock was worth back in its heyday, 1999.

Clear Channel’s executives are obviously urging all shareholders to approve the buyout (they call it a “merger”), as it represents the best option to “maximize shareholder value” given “extensive review of available strategic alternatives, taking into careful account the continued challenges in the broadcasting sector and…recent growth in the domestic outdoor [advertising] business, as well as future growth opportunities.” Read More

Translator Licensees Spike, Get Cited

The FCC has released year-end broadcast station totals. Of the 17,968 licensed radio stations in the nation, 4,131 (23%) are translator stations. FM translators may outnumber the number of AM stations by the end of this year; if the NAB’s proposal to give away translators to AM stations gains traction, the number of translators could quintuple.

Interestingly, the year-to-year totals of translators don’t seem to reflect the flood of new translators that have gone on the air since 2003. A recent slew of Notices of Apparent Liability released by the FCC for failure to timely renew station licenses somewhat does. Stations have been threatened with fines ranging between $1,500 and $8,500 for the infraction, with penalties inflated for those stations that technically operated without a license when their present one expired. In every case, the FCC has renewed each station’s license without further question.

The Merger of AT&T and BellSouth: Thanks for (Almost) Nothing

Right before the new year, without the benefit of a public meeting or vote, the FCC approved the corporate marriage of AT&T and BellSouth. With this $85 billion deal, Ma Bell is basically just two mergers away from being fully-reconstructed.

Harold Feld of the Media Access Project has already compiled an excellent summary of reaction to the deal, though his own perspective is much more optimistic than mine. I understand that AT&T’s commitment to the preservation of network neutrality is key concession made for the deal, but their 24-month pledge to the principle is six months shorter than the initial acquiescence it made when the FCC merger negotiation-debate began months earlier. Read More