FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has lined up only one substantive item for his last meeting as chairman, scheduled for Jan. 15, only five days before Barack Obama is sworn in. Appropriately, given the recent advice from Congress to stick with DTV-related items and ones with statutory deadlines, the item fits both those descriptions.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, his last agenda meeting as chairman as well, Martin said he was letting the other commissioners know they needed to vote on implementing the analog nightlight bill, which was was signed into law by the President earlier this month and has a Jan. 15 deadline.
Martin said he expected the FCC's proposed nightlight bill implementation rules would be published Dec. 31 in the Federal Register, with comments due Jan. 5 and replies Jan. 8, the abbreviated schedule necessitated by the Jan. 15 statutory deadline.
The bill allows broadcasters to keep their analog signals on for 30 days after the transition, but the FCC has to referee that grace period so that stations do not interfere with each other or emergency communications.
Martin said the Jan. 15 meeting would also feature presentations from the various bureas about their accomplishments in the past and a broader look at the challenges ahead.
But while the meeting may be confined to a single item, Martin says he is still pushing for votes on several other items on circulation, including proposed fines against cable operators for DTV education lapses. He said some of the companies involved had been meeting with the FCC about settling the fines, but said no deals had been struck and that not all the commissioners were comfortable with the item.
The chairman also said he had resubmitted and voted for rules for an upcoming advanced wireless services auction (AWS-3) that still contained his free broadband proposal but no longer had the content-filtering requirement that had troubled consumer activist groups.
Martin told reporters he did not know when the Media Bureau would rule on the program access complaints it had recently reclaimed from an administrative law judge, but said both he and the bureau were looking for speedy resolutions. He said he did not believe the decision to reclaim complaints from Wealth TV and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network against Comcast, Time Warner and others, also included one by the NFL against Comcast, but said he thought the same theory would apply, which was that the FCC had told an ALJ to come up with a decision in 60 days and it hadn't.
Martin said he did not support the Hollywood studios' request for a so called "selectable outputs" waiver of FCC rules so they could deliver films to VOD channels earlier in the aftermarket cycle, saying that decision would have to wait for the next chairman. He said his opposition stemmed from consumer groups' concerns that the waiver could undermine efforts to open cable platforms to competitive set-top devices, something Martin has pushed for. Martin did say that he had not basic problem with taking advantage of technology to give viewers access to first-run movies earlier.
The studios, backed by cable operators, want the ability to selectively block copying of HD movies via output controls on cable set-top boxes. They want to try delivering HD movies to multichannel-video subscribers before they are released on DVD but they need to be able to prevent their copying to protect that DVD window.
It was a day of teleconferenced meetings at the FCC. The five commissioners had assembled telephonically earlier in the day for the required monthly public meeting, but with no agenda and primarily to praise the Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who will exit before that meeting. The Dec. 18 meeting had been cancelled after key legislators advised the chairman not to tackle anything controversial.
Martin again would not say what his plans were after Jan. 20, when a new adminstration comes in and will pick its own chairman. He could stay on as a commissioner.
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