Friday 26 December 2008
by: Cecilia Kang, The Washington Post
Federal Communications Commissioners (FCC) hear testimony at a public hearing on the merger of XM and Sirius satellite radio. Under Obama, the FCC may play a larger role in expanding broadband internet access. (Photo: orbitcast.com)
How is the transition likely to affect the Federal Communications Commission?
What it does: The FCC was created by the Communications Act of 1934. It regulates communications by radio, telephone, television, wire, satellite and cable. The growth of the Internet and wireless technology has expanded the agency's profile, as it also oversees consumer prices and contracts, mergers among communications and media companies, and access to communications services during natural disasters. That has brought people such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to lobby in the past year.
The FCC also oversees auctions of government spectrum, such as an auction earlier this year of broadcast television airwaves that will be freed by digital television conversion on Feb. 17. And it reviews mergers by considering whether the transfer of communications licenses benefit the public.
Who runs it now and who may be getting the job: FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, has run the agency since March 15, 2005. Mentioned as possible successors have been Julius Genachowski, a venture capitalist and member of Obama's transition team, and Blair Levin, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus and a former chief of staff at the FCC. Some industry sources speculate that the new president may want to bring more diversity to the agency, which could yield a surprise pick.
Budget: In 2008, the FCC budget was $313 million, up 7 percent from $293 million in 2005.
Under Obama: New rules would prevent communications operators from slowing, blocking or discriminating against certain Internet content over their networks. The rules, known by the term "net neutrality," have been strongly opposed in recent years by cable and telephone giants, though some have softened their stance over the past year. The president-elect has also pushed for more broadband access in rural and other underserved areas, which he said would help generate more jobs to build wireless, cable, fiber and other networks.
History: New rules have allowed broadcasters and newspapers within a media market to be owned by the same entity. The mergers of Verizon with Alltel and of Sprint with Nextel have brought major consolidation to the wireless phone industry, and the XM-Sirius merger has done so in satellite radio. Auction of 700-megahertz spectrum for wireless carriers generated $19.6 billion for the Treasury.
Problems: A House oversight investigation found that Martin abused his power as chairman by suppressing data to push his policy agenda. The review, however, did not find that he violated any laws.
Photo: http://www.orbitcast.com/archives/karmazin-and-parsons-meet-with-fcc-commissioners.html Title: FCC Commissioners. Caption: Federal Communications Commissioners (FCC) hear testimony at a public hearing on the merger of XM and Sirius satellite radio. Under Obama, the FCC may play a larger role in expanding broadband internet access. (Photo: orbitcast.com)