What Will The New FCC Do First?
By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
Lexington and Concord. Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Bobby Thompson, of the 1954 New York Giants baseball club.
Donald J. Trump.
What do all of these things have in common?
All involve a “shot heard around the world.”
The unexpected election of Trump as the 45th President of the United States will certainly be examined by political scholars and media observers for years to come. But, on a more immediate level, speculation on how a Trump-led White House — with a Republican-majority Congress — may affect change in media ownership rules and FCC policy is already being discussed.
Simply put: The election of Mr. Trump could put an end to the most politically divisive Commission seen in U.S. history, and puts FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on a countdown clock for his eventual exit.
With Wheeler’s exit, Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai will find themselves in the majority, with Mignon Cyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel the soon-to-be minority commissioners.
Immediate changes won’t likely be seen. But, the much-debated set-top box proposal from Wheeler — hastily pulled from the September Open Meeting agenda just 20 minutes before its start — could now be shelved for good. A vote on the Wheeler plan was not on the October Open Meeting agenda, and it isn’t on the November Open Meeting agenda, either.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION (full text below for subscribers): The end of a Wheeler-led FCC is certainly something that has been discussed in recent weeks, as Election Day neared. But who could have imagined the possibilities that now exist for a troubled newspaper business, and for television and radio owners stymied by a divisive Commission led by an individual who has frustrated many a C-Suite executive across the nation?
While all talk of what could be is just speculation, the media industry’s chief lobbying group offered a statement on Trump’s election.
“NAB congratulates President-elect Trump and the new and returning members of Congress,” NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “We look forward to working with the next administration in support of a pro-innovation and regulatory reform agenda that will allow local broadcasting to flourish and reach every viewer and listener, anywhere and any time.”
The words regulatory reform indicate that the NAB welcomes a change at the FCC, as this could also lead to a fresh review of its 41-year-old media ownership rules prohibiting a newspaper from sharing common ownership of a broadcast property in the same market.
As RBR + TVBR reported Monday at RBR.com, the NAB is set to file a lawsuit against the FCC over its quadrennial media ownership rule review.
David Oxenford, a partner at Inside the Beltway communications law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer, took to the firm’s Broadcast Law Blog to address speculation across the Nation’s Capital about the potential appointees to various government positions after the inauguration of our next president.
For positions such as Chairman of the FCC, many Washington, DC legal journals offered names that would have made much sense had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton been elected president.
“On the Trump side of the leger, speculation was much vaguer, as few had any real insight into how his administration would implement the broad but, in many cases, imprecise policies that Mr. Trump expounded during the election,” Oxenford notes. “Given the results … those speculations are sure to ramp up as everyone tries to guess what will happen with broadcast policy in a Trump administration.”
Oxenford cautions that “we can only speculate” as to what Trump’s election will mean for broadcast policy, particularly at the FCC.
“One would certainly expect a lessening of the regulatory burden on broadcasters, as lessening burdensome regulations on businesses was a clear plank of the Trump agenda,” he notes.
He also makes notes of the recently concluded Quadrennial Review of the Ownership Rules, as a third Republican vote “could have changed the decisions on many issues.”
GET TO KNOW JEFFREY EISENACH
“At times like these, speculation is what people in Washington do,” Oxenford notes.
So, who do Inside the Beltway pundits think could be Wheeler’s successor?
“One name that has central to a Trump FCC is Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar and Director for the Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy at DC-based conservative “think tank” American Enterprise Institute,” Oxenford notes.
AEI has been associated with the Trump transition teams planning for the possible transition of power.
But, he would likely become a commissioner, Oxenford believes.
This puts either Commissioner Pai — an affable individual and active Twitter user — or Commissioner O’Rielly in the driver’s seat to become acting (and potentially permanent) Chairman.
“New names for FCC vacancies will likely arise in the near term,” Oxenford says.
Once the changes in FCC composition are made, a reversal of its decision on ownership rules could very well be put into motion.
“That could replace the current strategy of an appeal to the courts which, even if successful, would likely result in a remand to the FCC to adopt rules in line with the court’s order,” Oxenford says. “The appeal that the NAB has announced it is pursuing could be abandoned if there was an indication that a new FCC would see things differently than the old one. Of course, President-Elect Trump’s expressed hostility to big media companies is a wild card in this calculation.”
Also up for possible reconsideration: EEO rules and public file obligation.
But that’s just speculation, and Oxenford wants everyone to put their thoughts in the right perspective.
“Obviously, we are one day into a new reality, so this is still very much a developing story,” he says. “We’ll be watching, and broadcasters need to be watching too.”