At the leading edge

Barbara Kreisman's career at the FCC spans two eras of telecommunications regulation. At the time she joined the commission, in 1972 as a trial attorney in the hearings division, it had a reputation in the industry as a heavy-handed regulator that routinely used the threat of license-renewal hearings to advance its programming and ownership policies. Today, the FCC's focus has shifted toward creating new services and trying to stay out of the way.

The change suits Kreisman just fine. "There's a lot more diversity today with the creation and growth of cable and direct-broadcast–satellite television. The nature of regulation has changed. That's what makes this job interesting."

The hottest area now is implementation of digital television, she says. Naysayers notwithstanding, the thicket of technological snags facing DTV is not an impenetrable barrier, she contends, but simply a hurdle that will be overcome. "I feel like I'm on the cutting edge of bringing something new to our country."

This isn't the first time Kreisman has helped roll out a new service.

She was named head of the newly created low-power–TV branch when the FCC authorized those new stations for areas in which full-power outlets would create interference with existing stations. "My job was to get this service up and running at a time when we had more than a thousand applications and no rules," she says. Today, there are 2,184 LPTVs.

As chief of the Mass Media Bureau's Policy and Rules Division in the mid '80s, she helped sort through the 7,000 applications to launch a multipoint, multichannel distribution service and a nearly equal number of petitions to deny those licenses. Although MMDS "wireless cable" failed to pan out as a meaningful competitor to cable, nearly all of the available spectrum has been parceled out, and MMDS is expected to become an important source of broadband Internet service.

"My favorite thing to do," she says, "is inherit a whole big mess of applications and figure out a way to launch a new service."

As if the DTV transition wasn't enough work, Kreisman also was named by FCC Chairman Michael Powell to be the agency's point person on a new industry council readying media outlets for terrorist attack or environmental catastrophe.

"Right after 9/11," she says, "the chairman's office asked for an assessment of the loss of life among broadcasters with facilities on the World Trade Center and what was going on with stations' efforts to get back on the air."

The effort drove home that the industry had a long way to go before it could be classified as ready for another catastrophe. Powell launched the Media Security and Reliability Council, which counts as members more than 42 chief executives or other senior executives from media corporations."

At this stage of my career," Kreisman says. "I'm grateful to be chosen for this project. This is a tremendously important project."

Topping the council's agenda will be figuring out a way to add redundant systems into transmission networks. One lesson from the World Trade Center collapse is that local networks can instantly go dark unless alternative transmission sites are available. Broadcasting is particularly vulnerable, she says, because of the trend toward co-location of transmission towers. When the towers collapsed, nine TV stations and five radio outlets went with them.

Given local communities' resistance to any new communications towers, Kreisman recognizes that the council has a big chore and, she says, may have to rely on technological solutions to get around the lack of tower space.