Boucher: Broadband Deployment Will Be Priority

House Communications, Technology & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) says that broadband deployment will be his priority as head of the subcommittee, and will push for requiring satellite companies to carry all local TV stations.

"I think most importantly for the nation, for revival of our economy and also for the long-term economic success of the entire country, deploying broadband much more comprehensively," [would be his overriding goal].

He said the good news is that the stimulus package contains about $6.9 billion for broadband deployment.

He said that for the sake of the economy, the country needs to increase broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas (like his own Virginia district).

Boucher said his first hearing as chairman would be on reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Act, which allows satellite companies to import distant network signals to viewers who cannot receive a similar local signal.

Boucher said that, as part of that reauthorization, he would like to require that satellite operators carry local TV stations in all markets, including the 30, mostly rural, markets (including one in Boucher's district), where satellite operators do not carry the local stations.

Unlike cable operators, Dish and DirecTV do not have a must-carry mandate for local stations, though they must carry all stations in a market where they chose to carry any (carry one, carry all). Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) has recently introduced a bill that would mandate satellite carriage of local TV stations in every market, including the two such markets in his district that currently don't get those stations.

Boucher, speaking for an interview with C-SPAN's Communicators series, said another major goal will be overseeing the DTV transition, saying he had been in contact with acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps about "how we will manage this process."

Boucher, who managed the Democrat's side of the floor debate on the bill to move the DTV date from Feb. 17 to June 12, said he was "confident" it would be a "smooth and seamless" transition. Copps, by contrast, has predicted inevitable "dislocation and confusion."

He also said he would be overseeing the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and Rural Develpoment Agency as they hand out the broadband grant money in the economic stimulus package, which is expected to be passed next week.

Boucher said he understood from the outset that the NTIA's coupon box subsidy program was underfunded, and that the $650 million in the stimulus package should help get the coupons flowing again--"we think that backlog is going to be cleared up rather promptly," he said--and help the FCC fund call centers. He said the call centers were crucial to the transition since "across a lot of America we will have a complete absence of technical assistance for people to diagnose any kind of reception problems."

Boucher has long pushed for a technical assistance component to the transition to deal with antenna issues. That is both a general concern and one specific to his mountainous southwestern Virginia district.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.