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Capital Watch

Clear Channel Creates Local Boards

Just in time for this week's FCC hearing on localism in broadcasting, San Antonio-based Clear Channel is establishing local advisory boards to "strengthen existing communications between local management in each of the company's operating divisions and the communities they serve."

A pilot advisory program is already under way in San Antonio, and others will begin in Cleveland, Sarasota, Fla., and other markets throughout the year. The boards are intended to provide a forum for the community to air any concerns about Clear Channel's success in meeting local programming needs. Local management from each of the company's radio, TV, concert and billboard divisions will run and participate in the boards. "By creating standing advisory boards, we're expecting to help our local managers identify local-market needs, concerns and opportunities earlier so that we can act even more swiftly to serve our key local constituencies," said Clear Channel President Mark Mays.

The specific lineup of each board will be determined locally. Groups targeted will include local non-profits and consumer advocates; musicians, community and government leaders, and local customer representatives.


KYPX(TV) Camden, Ark., can't force EchoStar to make room for a satellite-dish antenna the company plans for delivering its signal to the direct-broadcast satellite provider's Little Rock, Ark., facility, the FCC has ruled. As part of plans to offer local TV channels in the market, EchoStar agreed to accept a satellite signal from KYPX after measurements demonstrated that the over-the-air signal would be too weak. The satellite provider insisted it had no room for the 4- x 6-foot dish at the local receiver facility space it leases from Clear Channel. Consequently, EchoStar demanded that the station itself lease the space from Clear Channel. KYPX argued that commission precedent required EchoStar to find space for the station. The FCC found, however, that, in a case in which DirecTV was required to make room for a broadcaster, the necessary equipment weighed only 2 pounds and was easily accommodated within existing space.

Comcast Free To Bargain With Fleeing Subscribers

The FCC won't stop Comcast from cutting deals with subscribers threatening to bolt to a competing cable provider. The commission said Jan. 8 it has no authority to make sure special deals Comcast offers restive customers are also available to everyone else in a market.

The decision stemmed from overbuilder WideOpen West's complaint that deals Comcast offers to some customers in a Detroit suburb are illegal because Congress requires cable companies to publicize their rates and prohibits "secret" rates negotiated privately. In Warren, Mich., outside Motor City, Comcast's digital tier costs roughly $51 a month for most customers. But subscribers signaling that they will cancel and sign on with WOW could get the digital package for $21.95 per month for six months. The FCC called WOW's interpretation "sweeping." Laws imposed to ensure that customers get the programming packages they pay for are "a far cry" from a prohibition on limited promotions, the FCC said.

WOW does have other options for opposing Comcast's practice, the FCC said. Possibilities include a complaint with local franchise authorities, a lawsuit alleging unfair competition, or even coming back to the FCC claiming violation of uniform price rules. The commission cautioned, however, it was not predicting an outcome of those alternatives.

Upton ups ante

Twenty-four representatives signed on to be original co-sponsors of Rep. Fred Upton's bill to raise fines for broadcast indecency ten-fold. Among the group: House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin and ranking Democrat John Dingell. Introduced last week, the bill would raise the top fine the FCC can fine to $275,000 per violation and $3 million for a repeated violation. "This legislation will significantly strengthen the FCC's hand in punishing those who peddle indecent and obscene material over our airwaves," Upton said. The chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee will hold a hearing on indecency Wednesday.