Co-Sponsored by New America's Wireless Future Project & Media Policy Initiative
On April 27th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on rules requiring improved disclosure by local TV stations. The Commission has proposed requiring broadcasters to move their “public inspection files” – including records of who is actually paying for political campaign ads – from filing cabinets to a publicly accessible website. Broadcasters have launched a massive lobbying blitz to defeat the Commission’s media transparency proposal.
This latest debate raises a larger question: Is “the current system of public interest obligations for broadcasters broken,” as the FCC concluded in Information Needs of Communities, an inquiry led by one of our panelists? Should broadcasters continue to shoulder Public Interest Obligations (PIOs) to compensate taxpayers for the free use of tens of billions of dollars worth of public spectrum?
In February Congress passed legislation allowing the FCC to pay broadcasters to put their spectrum up for auction to cell phone companies and get off the air. And while reliance on over-the-air TV has fallen to 15 percent of U.S. households, national networks and media conglomerates are increasingly siphoning the rapidly rising retransmission payments made by pay TV services (cable, satellite and telco) out of local communities rather than reinvesting in local public affairs, news and educational programming. What PIOs make sense in this shifting media landscape?