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Capital Watch

Affiliates Ticked by Powell's News Putdown

Network affiliates say FCC Chairman Michael Powell is wrongly dissing their newscasts. The NAB and the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance penned a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain last week asking the Arizona Republican to ignore Powell's repeated assertion that network O&Os do a better job of local news than affiliates. Powell's claim, a response to McCain's questions about the national TV-ownership cap, is based on FCC data that affiliates say ignores that their stations tend to be in smaller markets with less ad revenue to support newscasts. "The commission should explain why it refuses to address ... market size," the trade groups told McCain.

Markey's Privacy Concerns

Rep. Ed Markey wants to extend privacy protections to satellite customers and to consumers who order programming online. The Massachusetts Democrat complained last week that current privacy protections protect cable subscribers from disclosure of their purchases but not others. "This makes absolutely no sense when one considers that millions of such satellite subscribers are watching the same programming as the cable subscriber next door." A bill he introduced would prohibit companies from disclosing programming buys and other customer information.

The bill also extends the reach of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, enacted after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video-rental records were disclosed, to cover online purchases and not just rentals of videocassettes. Downloads to storage devices such as Replay or TiVo would be protected as well. "Consumers should certainly be accorded the same privacy protections for these services as they receive from cable operators," Markey said. "The total lack of any legal protections in this area is especially troubling given reports that companies are willing to sell certain, aggregate data about consumer viewing habits to marketers and others."

Markey, with Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairs the Congressional Privacy Caucus. Barton is rumored to be the next House Commerce Committee chairman, and Markey is ranking member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee.

Northpoint Bid To Kill Auction Loses Steam

House and Senate negotiators have apparently agreed to eliminate a measure that would cancel a planned Jan. 14 auction of spectrum slated for a terrestrially delivered pay-TV service that would compete with cable and DBS. Northpoint Technology asserts that the spectrum should be allocated free and likely would have been a main beneficiary if the auction were called off. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ark.), who is leading Senate negotiations with House leaders over a spending-bill compromise, has apparently agreed to House leaders' demand for elimination of the Northpoint provision.

Top FCC Lawyer Optimistic on Media Ownership

The cacophony of lawsuits on both sides of the media-ownership debate perhaps will lead judges to grant FCC the benefit of the doubt, the agency's hopeful general counsel told the Media Institute. "Nearly everybody has a dog in this fight and wants something different," John Rogovin said. As for the big picture, being the FCC's top lawyer ain't what it used to be, he lamented. As indicated by court losses over previous media-ownership limits and cable-modem regulation, he said federal judges are less willing to defer to commissioners' judgment when deciding lawsuits over agency decisions. "The level of deference is not as robust as in what I call 'the good ole days.'"