FCC Approves Trio of Noncontroversial Items

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
(Image credit: FCC)

It's always sunny in Washington these days when it comes to FCC meeting votes as the commissioners continued to vote on noncontroversial items this week--there were plenty of commissioner "thank yous" and mutual congratulations at the December 14 public meeting--even as the fate of Democratic nominee Gigi Sohn, who would be the majority vote in decisions on politically divisive issues like media and broadband access reregulation, got cloudier.

At its December public meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved items 1) seeking comment on improving the competitive bidding process for E-rate broadband subsidy money, 2) seeking to make it easier to launch low-earth-orbit-satellites that could provide broadband service with higher speeds and lower latencies, and 3) proposing to "improve the clarity and descriptiveness" of visual elements of emergency alerts--and potentially the amount of visual information--and to require broadcasters, cable operators and other Emergency Alert System 9EAS) users to prioritize using the internet-based delivery version of the alerts rather then the legacy "over-the-air" versions," given the internet-based version's superior quality.

Until the FCC is no longer at a political 2-2 tie, chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel won't be able to tackle issues like restoring net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, as she has signaled she would like to do, and the Biden Administration supports, or restoring some of the media ownership regulations eliminated by the former, Republican majority, FCC.

Also: Streamers Say They Should Not Have EAS Mandate

The EAS item took on added import given the tornadoes that tore through the South last week leaving many dead and homeless. 

"It is hard to know what kind of warning is adequate when freak weather like this comes along," said Rosenworcel at the meeting. "But we do know that we are seeing these kinds of storms with greater frequency.  And I think we have a responsibility to improve the warning systems we have, to get people the news they need in an emergency.....[T]he agency’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has been in close contact with FEMA, state and local emergency managers, carriers, and broadcasters in the states the tornado visited last week," she said. "We know that improving outreach is vital and that keeping our alerting practices up-to-date is essential—and that is what we seek to do here."

The FCC on Tuesday (December 14) activated its voluntary Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) for the Kentucky tornadoes asking that service providers--broadcast, cable, telco--provide outages and disruptions in the counties of Breckinridge, Bullitt, Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Grayson, Hickman, Hopkins, Lyon, Marshall, Meade, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Shelby, Spencer, Taylor, Warren.

The FCC wants the reports by 10 a.m. Wednesday (December 15) and every subsequent day until it deactivates DIRS.

On the Sohn nomination front, Law 360 was reporting that a coalition of Hispanic organizations was preparing to urge the President to pick a Hispanic nominee if Sohn's nomination is withdrawn.

The League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) last month wrote Senate Commerce chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asking her to oppose Sohn's nomination citing her support from some conservative media outlets. Those outlets had benefitted from her advocacy for carriage of more diverse independent voices on large distribution platforms, including conservative voices with which she strongly disagreed. 

Supporters believe she still has the Democratic Senate votes for approval, but Republicans have been pushing back hard citing her past positions as head of advocacy group Public Knowledge, some of her Tweets about Fox News, and her support for Title II-based net neutrality rules, which she advocated for as a top aide to then FCC chair Tom Wheeler.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has pledged to put a hold on the nomination if need be, after asking that the nomination be withdrawn.

Sohn would be the first openly gay FCC commissioner, a point President Biden made when he nominated her. ■

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.