FCC PPM Investigation Unlikely

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin is unlikely to push for an investigation into whether Arbitron’s portable people service harms minority broadcasters.
During a Wednesday midday (Dec. 3) press conference outside his office at FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C., Martin told nearly 40 reporters that he has met “with representatives from both sides and with some radio broadcasters,” but that he has not made a decision on whether an investigation should be launched.

Last month, fellow commissioner Jonathan Adelstein wrote to Martin, asking that such a probe be initiated by the agency. Until today, Martin had steered clear of responding, but had previously questioned whether the FCC had the authority to look into Arbitron’s research and data collection methods.

Martin, who is expected to leave the Commission when president-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, acknowledged that he had met with the Obama transition team, but declined to relay the specifics of that meeting or to say how long it lasted. Pressed on what the biggest problems a new FCC chairman will face, Martin avoided specifics but said “obviously, the DTV transition is the biggest thing the next chairman needs to contend with.”

The FCC requires all television stations in the nation to drop their analog signal and deliver digital signals only to their audiences beginning Feb. 17, 2009.

Martin also noted that the Commission is still struggling with exactly how it will implement its requirement of Sirius XM to turn over the equivalent of 24 satellite radio channels to another entity or entities in order to produce a dozen public access channels and a dozen minority programmed channels. On Nov. 28, when the original deadline expired, the Commission initiated its own extension of the deadline to make those decisions until the end of February.

For the most part, what happens to the channels and satellite space is not the concern, necessarily, of Sirius XM, but of the FCC which made the requirement as part of the compromise to approve the merger of the two satcasters on July 25. Martin on Wednesday said the Commission has reached an agreement on channel capacity but not an agreement about how to go forward with the plan.

Martin refused to discuss his plans after he leaves the FCC or to be specific about his time-table for exiting government service.