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The Big Items on the FCC’s To-Do List

Much work to be done

Tom Wheeler

Did anyone really think that Julius Genachowski wouldn’t leave the media ownership rules for the next guy? Or the always-in-court, nearly impossible to legally defend broadcast indecency rules? Even with 11th-hour pushes to take on both, it was clear throughout Genachowski’s tenure as Federal Communications Commission chairman that his heart was in expanding broadband and wireless services. While he made headway in transforming the FCC into the Federal Broadband Commission, there’s still a lot to be done by the next chair. And while Mignon Clyburn may have broken the glass ceiling as acting chairwoman, she’s unlikely to take on anything controversial, leaving it all for nominee (ex-cable/wireless lobbyist) Tom Wheeler, whose Senate confirmation likely won’t move until September. Here’s what Genachowski left on his plate.

SPECTRUM AUCTION
Details, details. Genachowski set 2014 as the deadline for the FCC to hold an extremely complicated auction. But there are thorny issues that must be resolved before TV broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish some of their spectrum to wireless companies. The latest hiccups: a debate over whether the FCC should impose limits on how much spectrum a wireless company can hold and how TV and wireless services should be organized on the band once the spectrum has been transferred.

MEDIA OWNERSHIP
Few would blame Genachowski for not getting this done. The third rail of the FCC, the Watergate-era rules elicit some of the most heated debates and are generally a no-win, politically. Genachowski proposed loosening the rules, allowing cross-ownership between radio and newspapers, but the process is on hold pending a study (requested by Clyburn) on minority ownership. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has also tossed in a grenade, asking for the Government Accountability Office to study shared service agreements among broadcasters, which Genachowski’s draft suggested should be counted in ownership limits.

BROADCAST INDECENCY
U2’s Bono, Cher and others will have to zip it for a little while longer. After disposing of more than a million backlogged indecency complaints last month, the FCC proposed to narrow its indecency focus to “egregious indecency cases,” whatever that means. Comments on the proposal, following nearly a year after the Supreme Court tossed the old rules back in the FCC’s lap, are nearing 100,000. The FCC decided to put off the decision, extending the comment deadlines from May 20 and June 18 to June 19 and July 18.

NET NEUTRALITY
Everyone wants an open Internet and uninterrupted service. The question is whether the FCC should be the one to regulate it. Verizon and many House GOPers say the FCC overstepped its bounds when it passed rules in 2010 that prohibit ISPs from blocking or slowing down lawful content, applications or services. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case in early fall, and depending on how the court rules, the new chairman will have to decide whether to keep pursuing a way to establish the FCC’s authority to regulate Internet services or let it go.

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