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Little From Congress

February 1, 2007

The Senate Commerce Committee held its (short) hearing today on "Assessing the Communications Marketplace: A View from the FCC." All five FCC Commissioners were in attendance as witnesses.

Nothing much on digital TV except a mention in FCC Chairman Martin's prepared statement, which championed competition among video service providers. That is, he is promoting the entry into that market by the big telephone companies (AT&T and Verizon).

He also included a vague reference to his preference for a la carte channel pricing by cable and satellite companies:

"While consumers have enormous choice among channels, they have little control over how many channels they are able to buy. For those who want to receive 100 channels or more, today's most popular cable packages may be a good value. But according to Nielson, most viewers watch fewer then two dozen channels. For them, the deal isn't as good."

Hardly a call to action, but who knows?

The good Senators showed no interest in digital TV, except for what programming is shown on it. Their primary interests were 1) broadband internet service penetration into rural and other underserved areas, and 2) "localism" and "public interest" requirements for TV station owners.

These two issues relate to media ownership rules (TV stations owned by huge media corporations versus small local companies) and program content (local news and children-friendly shows versus sex and violence-laden entertainment).

Masterpiece Theater and Sesame Street versus The Sopranos and Gray's Anatomy.

Senator Rockefeller was concerned about media conglomerate station ownership, lamenting the loss of local news staff in favor of national commercial programming. There were fond words of a time when a TV station owner walked into the local barber shop or restaurant and talked to the people, and programming reflected that.

He made sure that everyone knew about his pending indecency bill. He thinks that today's commercial TV programming is awful, remarking that it was so different when he grew up (oh, that would be the 1950s - the dawn of black and white TV, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It To Beaver. Yes, Jay, VERY different!). He mentioned the conservative Parent Television Council as a source for his information.

FCC Chairman Martin agreed with him, saying he objected to the content on TV today.

Over on the other side of the Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the FCC Commissioners asking questions in preparation for their own February 15 FCC Oversight hearing. This time more interest in the transition to digital TV:

"What steps can the Commission take to enhance the level of preparedness of our nation for the upcoming digital television transition in February of 2009?

"What specific actions do you support the Commission taking with respect to the broadcasting, cable, programming content, manufacturing, or retail sector to enhance consumer education about the DTV transition?"

We'll have their answers in a couple of weeks.