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Broadcasters to Huddle On Big D.C. Issues at NAB

With all the regulatory issues before broadcasters, you can almost hear them humming a certain Barry Manilow tune as they convene on Las Vegas this week for their annual convention: “Looks Like We Made It.”

Broadcasters have had some notable successes on the regulatory front. With the Association for Maximum Service Television, they have gained ground in their fight against the government's effort to allow unlicensed devices to share DTV spectrum. The FCC is not likely to approve those devices anytime soon. While the commissioners all seem to think that technology will eventually win out, they are also not about to open the gates to the devices until they have some assurance that portable laptops or so-called “smart radios” won't mess up digital TV pictures.

After years of trying to get the FCC to loosen national and local ownership rules, the result was more whimper than bang, although the process made a lot of noise in Washington. Broadcasters had pushed for an end to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban and the ability to own more TV stations in a market. The FCC wound up loosening the ban instead, and doing nothing on local ownership caps, much to the displeasure of numerous broadcast groups that filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the rule change. The upshot is that the ownership rules remain unresolved and in court for months, if not years to come.

Broadcasters did better on the DTV front, with the FCC deciding to require all cable operators to carry local must-carry TV stations in digital and analog if that's what it takes to make sure viewers can still get a signal after the transition to digital. They would have liked a tougher viewability standard that forced cable to carry all bits, but came away with enough to put it in the win column.

The National Association of Broadcasters is still concerned about many issues at the FCC, including a proposal to boost its reporting requirements. The group e-mailed members recently, asking them to schedule “calls, meetings and contacts with the Commissioners and their staffs.” NAB has taken the FCC to court over some of those requirements and remains concerned about others (see box).

One big lingering concern for NAB remains the XM/Sirius merger, with a decision expected from the FCC any day. NAB has pushed hard against it, so the Justice Department's decision to give it a free pass was a tough blow. While the proposed merger is narrowly about satellite radio, the decision of what constitutes a media marketplace has ramifications for satellite TV and, potentially, for competition in media markets generally.