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Washington Watch

TV Could Make VoIP Safer

TV stations could soon help solve one of the biggest drawbacks of new Internet-based cellphones.

Cellphones that rely on voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) can't complete 911 calls when a subscriber travels out of town, because they don't offer a way to identify the caller's location. Thus, a Denver VoIP subscriber making a 911 call in Los Angeles will end up reaching emergency workers back home in Colorado. Fixing VoIP's 911 problems is a top priority for the FCC. Last week, the agency ordered VoIP providers to offer 911 access on residential phones but is still searching for ways to make 911 work when subscribers hit the road.

Rosum, a Redwood, Calif., startup, has developed a technology that, imbedded in Internet-based cellphones, can constantly monitor local TV signals, each of which contains data identifying the geographic location of the transmitter tower. During a 911 call, Rosum's technology would route the call to the closest emergency communications center rather than the caller's hometown.

Rosum CEO Skip Speaks says he needs broadcasters in each market to make some minor coordination efforts for the venture to work, and he hopes to convince them that the points they would score with the FCC are reason to participate.

Copps on Ownership Fight: “Damned Right!”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps sounded a clarion call for artists, activists and independent journalists to prevent further media consolidation. He made the plea at a media-reform convention sponsored by Free Press, a group opposing media monopolies. “I ask your help in this all-American crusade to reclaim the people's media for the people,” he said at the May 14 gathering in St. Louis.

The FCC will review those rules in coming weeks, but Copps urged the crowd to jump into the fray now. “Don't let the usual suspects inside the Beltway write the rules. Jump in with both feet. Involve your friends, your neighbors, anyone you can. Convene meetings. Write letters and articles. Take to the Internet. Use every source you can access. Do everything you can—and then do a little bit more!” The normally understated Copps wasn't done with the polemics: “A lot of work to do? Sure. Powerful interests on the other side? You bet. A steep climb? Absolutely. Winnable? I have a two-word answer for that one: Damned right!”

Stevens To Examine Rural Cable's Program Costs

With an eye toward reining in programming costs for small cable operators, Senate Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) promised to investigate whether retransmission-consent rules give programmers leverage to demand extravagant fees from operators in rural communities. Stevens' comments to the American Cable Association were welcome news to the group's members. ACA represents the small and rural operators that don't have the negotiating leverage to bargain for discounts in programming fees. ACA President Matt Polka says his members pay 30%-50% more for their programming than big operators like Comcast. Stevens pledged to hold a hearing on retransmission consent this year.

Telemundo: Hispanic Viewers Not Ready for DTV

General managers from NBC-owned Telemundo stations warned Congress recently that rushing the switch to all-digital broadcasts puts Hispanic viewers at a disadvantage. They stressed the point to legislators drafting a bill intended to set a firm deadline for shutting off old analog signals, perhaps as early as Dec. 31, 2006. Hispanic viewers would be particularly disadvantaged by a 2006 switch because so few Spanish-speaking homes would own DTV sets, Araceli De Leon, general manager of KWHY Los Angeles, told B&C. Although analog sets hooked to cable or satellite will be able to get TV after analog signals go away, Hispanic viewers are also less likely to subscribe to pay TV as well.