FCC Consumer Group Weighs DTV Obligations

A Media working group of the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) Nov. 18 is expected to vote on, and likely approve, recommendations for new broadcast public interest obligations in the digital age that include setting quantifiable obligations and disclosure requirements.

Among the recommended obligations are diversity of DTV programming providers, outlets and employment, closed captioning and video description.

The group, made up of about a dozen members from industry and advocacy groups, was formed to "make recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission regarding consumer issues within the jurisdiction of the Commission."

Whatever the group decides becomes its official recommendation to the commission, which chartered the CAC it in 2003.

Laying out the case for public interest obligations will be Capitol Broadcastings Jim Goodman, a strong supporter of public interest obligations and a member of the President's Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters.

Though they generally balk at new quantifiable obligations, broadcasters have become increasingly receptive--or resigned, depending on how you look at it--to new public interest obligations in the digital world, particularly if it helps them gain mandatory cable carriage of their multicast digital signals.

Looking for a strong yes vote, Diane Watson (D-Calif.) has written the chair of the CAC expressing her support for the recommendations. Watson is a founding member of the Future of America Media Caucus, formed last April by House Democrats "concerned about "the damaging effects of media consolidation."

"While the FCC has opened a series of proceedings since 1999 on issues related to the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters," wrote Watson, "it has not yet issued any decision from those proceedings. I strongly believe that consumers have the right to know how the analog-to-digital transition will serve their interests."

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.