FCC's Clyburn: Concerned Broadcast Auctions Could Affect Diversity

FCC commissioner and former chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said she is definitely concerned that diversity may be impacted by the incentive auctions if they encourage broadcasters now serving minority communities to give up their spectrum.

But she also said the auctions need to be open to everyone and that the FCC needs to think "creatively" about how to incentivize the broadcasters still in business to do more.

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series. She also pointed out that channel sharing could be one way for minority-targeted stations to benefit from the auction and remain in business, a point FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been making a lot lately.

Clyburn said to look for some action on media ownership rule revamps in the coming weeks.

Clyburn said she thought "the spirit" of FCC reforms spearheaded by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, would improve FCC "engagement" and make it more robust. But she also pointed out that the FCC is undertaking its own process reforms, which were outlined at January public meeting.

She was asked about the finding that there are no longer any African American owned TV stations in the country.

As a former media entrepreneur, Clyburn said she thought the Internet and other platforms could augment minority ownership of media, but that it was not a substitute for broadcast ownership. "I will not be satisfied until there are pathways to parity," she said.

She said it was important that the American experience is reflected in both programming and ownership.

Asked whether the FCC should start reviewing individual licenses to insure diversity, Clyburn said that was something she was pondering and asked for input from the public.

She said it is becoming an increasing challenge to regulate according to decades-old communications laws, but that it is forcing the FCC to be more creative in how they regulate, citing the IP trials as one example. "We may have some challenges in terms of the existing framework," but that it was also important to "retrofit" and make it work.

Clyburn said the core values—access, public safety, competition—must transfer from the old circuit-switched network to IP delivery, but that the reason for the IP trials is to find out what regs should follow suit.

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.