Washington Watch

Gregg To Head FCC Media Bureau

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin tapped Donna Gregg to be chief of the FCC Media Bureau, the office charged with handling most of the agency's oversight of the TV business. Gregg has been general counsel of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting since 2002. She also has been a partner at the Washington telecommunications law firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding.

This is her second stint at the FCC. She began her legal career as a staff attorney in the commission's former Cable Television Bureau after graduating from Duke University School of Law.

Gregg succeeds Ken Ferree, who ironically is now CPB's acting president. Her deputies will be Roy Stewart and Deborah Klein. Stewart is a 40-year veteran of the commission and has been chief of the Office of Broadcast License Policy since 2001. He was the longtime chief of the old Mass Media Bureau, which oversaw broadcasting but not the cable industry. Klein has been acting Media Bureau chief since Ferree's departure.

MediaFLO Making TV Channel Deals

To speed the rollout of its MediaFLO cellphone TV service, Qualcomm has begun striking deals with TV stations occupying ch. 55, where it owns rights to use the channel at the end of the digital transition. Rather than wait until the DTV switch is complete, probably no sooner than 2009, Qualcomm wants the ch. 55 slot vacated as soon as possible.

Qualcomm's first agreements are with owners of WACX Orlando, Fla., and KWDK Tacoma, Wash. Qualcomm has agreed to compensate both the Associated Christian Television System, owner of the Orlando station, and Puget Sound Educational TV, owner of the Tacoma outlet, according to a lawyer handling the deals. The size of Qualcomm's offer is confidential.

The agreement is contingent upon the current owners winning FCC permission to stop broadcasting on ch. 55 and operate digital-only on ch. 40 in Orlando and on 42 in Tacoma.

Talks between Qualcomm and other broadcasters are underway.

Qualcomm paid the FCC $38 million for future rights to channel 55 nationwide at an auction conducted by the FCC last summer. However, it can't access the channel in any market where a broadcaster is operating on it or where MediaFLO would create interference to stations on adjacent channels. Whether MediaFLO has potential to hurt TV reception in the Orlando and Tacoma markets is expected to be a major issue in the FCC review of the deals.

To accommodate the federal government's drive to move all broadcasters to digital-only operation, the FCC plans to reclaim chs. 52-69 from broadcasters and auction the frequencies to wireless companies and other providers of new communications services. Other channels in the 52-59 range have already been auctioned in some markets but most still must be auctioned. A bill pending in the House would require the remaining channels to be auctioned in 2007.

Stevens Backs Bells' U.S. Franchise Hopes

Senate Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Ted Stevens wants Congress to boost phone companies' efforts to get into the video business.

Stevens last week gave strong backing to the Bells' drive for a nationwide franchise allowing them to roll out video without lengthy franchise negotiations with 30,000 municipal governments. “We ought to have some kind of national solution,” he told telecom lawyers in Washington.

Kyle McSlarrow, new president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, endorsed the idea and said it is preferable to an alternative approach the Bells have been seeking—statewide franchises approved by state legislatures.

McSlarrow said statewide franchises could wrongly put cable at a competitive disadvantage. He also said cable and phone-based video providers should pay equivalent state and local fees and taxes.

But local governments are opposed to a national franchise model and statewide franchises because either option would diminish their leverage to negotiate agreements that best serve their communities.