Former FCC Chairman Doubts PRA Passes This Year

Despite the full head of steam the Performance Rights Act has seemingly picked up on Capitol Hill this year, Dick Wiley doubts that it will get pushed into law in 2009.

Wiley, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and the uber-inside of Washington communications legal eagles, on Wednesday afternoon (May 20) was giving nearly 80 attendees of BIA’s inaugural “Winning Media Strategies” conference an update on the goings-on in the Federal City.

Wiley predicted legislators will be too busy with other matters of national scope, including getting FCC chairman nominee Julius Genachowski and fellow would-be commissioner Mignon Clyburn, also a Democrat pick nominated by President Obama, through the approval process. By the time Congress gets done with the heavy lifting, the calendar will likely be into 2010, Wiley suspects.

Heavy betting is that the FCC likely won’t have a full, five-member commission seated until sometime in the fall. And when it does get up and running, broadcast ownership, which he characterized as “a sad tale” competing with one channel in “a continuing multi-channel universe,” will need some relief from the commission. He said he was particularly concerned about the effects that multichannel services could have on smaller television operators in small and mid-size markets.

Wiley, the chief rainmaker at Wiley Rein, one of the nation’s largest communications law firms, based in Washington, also doubts that the Fairness Doctrine will be resurrected. “I don’t see the Fairness Doctrine coming back. Chairman Copps has said the same thing, and I take him at his word. President Obama has also said it’s not coming back,” Wiley said.

On fleeting expletives, he recapped the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in favor of the FCC’s authority to fine broadcasters for it, but also noted that the court remanded it back to the lower court on the basis of constitutionality. “We ought to go back to the old middle ground where broadcasters self-regulate and the FCC has restrained authority to regulate and enforce,” Wiley suggested.