Listen to (and share) episode 62 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. Deadline’s financial editor talks with host David Bloom about growing interest in some corners of Washington D.C. about crafting new communications policies for the Internet age; AMC’s best concession deal in decades with a stock deal for its customers; a report that suggests breaking up the pay-TV bundle would “devastate” consumers and the oligopoly that dominates the industry; and new government efforts to measure the economy that say the country’s creative industries generated $915 billion in 2011, and what that might mean for new policies for Hollywood.
You’re hearing a big sigh of relief from broadcasters today. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post that he wants to postpone the voluntary auction that will enable wireless broadband providers to use airwaves now controlled by TV stations. It originally was planned for 2014, but Wheeler says he believes “we can conduct a successful auction in the middle of 2015.” It’s easy to imagine that his decision was influenced by the troubled web rollout for the Affordable Care Act. “I have often defined the complexity of this multi-part simultaneous [auction] process as being like a Rubik’s cube,” Wheeler says. “As part of our auction system development, we will check and recheck the auction software and system components against the auction requirements, and under a variety of scenarios replicating real life conditions. … Only when our software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested, will we start the auction.” Wheeler also has to make a controversial policy decision about whether the government should limit how much spectrum might go to wireless giants Verizon and AT&T.
Tom Wheeler gave students at Ohio State University a lesson in political savvy today in his first policy speech since he became FCC chairman last month. His address alternately preached the virtues of small government, and public interest advocacy — especially on the controversial question of the FCC’s role in regulating the Web. “What the Internet does is an activity where policy makers must be judiciously prudent and should not be involved,” he says. But the longtime industry lawyer and former lobbyist left the FCC a lot of wiggle room to advance what he calls the “Network Compact” to promote communications accessibility, interconnection, and public safety and security. His idea of accessibility “means the ability of [Internet] users to access all lawful content on a network,” he says — adding that’s why the FCC “adopted enforceable rules to preserve the Open Internet.” The FCC needs to be the public’s representative in a transition to what he calls “the fourth network revolution” following the development of the printing press, railroads, and the telegraph. The Internet “is not a law-free zone. It depends upon standards of conduct. And it depends on the ability of the government to intervene in the event of aggravated circumstances.”
This should temporarily quiet those who feared that Tom Wheeler would be in the pocket of the wireless phone industry, which he used to represent. The new FCC chairman sent a letter today to CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group, saying that “enough time has passed” and it’s time for service providers to unlock their devices “voluntarily or for the FCC to regulate.” He wants a “full unlocking rights policy” to appear in the CTIA Consumer Code “before the December holiday season.” The goal is to clear the way for consumers to use any mobile phone or tablet with any service provider. FCC staff have been working with CTIA to develop a new policy. The letter says the two sides now disagree on one thing: whether service providers should notify customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, or simply unlock them, without a fee. “Absent the consumer’s right to be informed about unlocking eligibility, any voluntary program would be a hollow shell,” Wheeler writes.
Related: FCC Relaxes Foreign Ownership Rules
I’m stunned by some of the appointments Tom Wheeler just announced as part of his plan to “hit the ground running.” He snagged Public Knowledge co-founder and CEO Gigi Sohn — one of the smartest advocates in the public interest community — to be Special Counsel for External Affairs. (Public Knowledge says that VP Michael Weinberg and COO Brooke Hunter will become Acting Co-Presidents.) The corporate community also has a tested ally at the new FCC with Philip Verveer, a longtime communications and antitrust lawyer who’ll be Senior Counsel. Verveer and his wife, Melanne, are long-time pals of Bill and Hillary Clinton. “With critical work to be accomplished for the American people and the Internet becoming ever more important in the lives of consumers and businesses across the nation, this team provides an excellent mix of governmental, private-sector and public-interest expertise,” Wheeler says. “They will join the many talented and dedicated professionals of the FCC, as we work to continue serving the public interest during an era of great technological change.”
Here’s the full list of changes from the FCC:
Just hours after Sen. Ted Cruz pulled his hold on the nomination today, the Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler as the next chair of the FCC. The GOP senator from Texas had put a hold on the nomination under the premise he objected to Democrat Wheeler’s vague response to questions about whether the FCC should require TV stations and cable operators to disclose the identities of political advertisers. On Tuesday, Cruz said he’s met with Wheeler and discussed the issue to his satisfaction. Nonetheless, it was a confirmation a long time coming. President Obama picked the former cable and mobile phone industry lobbyist in May to replace Julius Genachowski as chairman. At the time Obama said he hoped for “a speedy confirmation process.” He didn’t get that wish but he did eventually get his guy.
When there’s an opening for a Democrat and a Republican on the FCC — as there is now — the custom is to approve both nominees together. But Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) decided he’d …
There was laughter at the White House moments ago when the President, who was also smiling, said he anticipates “a speedy confirmation process.” That may be too much to expect following his nomination of Core Capital Partners’ Tom Wheeler, 67, to be the nation’s chief communications regulator. But the FCC won’t be leaderless once Chairman Julius Genachowski steps down: President Obama designated Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to be Acting Chairwoman until Wheeler’s aboard. Wheeler’s mandate is to make sure that the U.S. is “at the cutting edge” of technological change, promoting “American ingenuity and American innovation,” the President said. Genachowski says that he can “attest to Tom’s commitment to harness the power of communications technology to improve people’s lives, to drive our global competitiveness, and to advance the public interest.”