FCC to review retrans debate

Group's chair declines to comment on NBC/Comcast deal

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday his agency would initiate a review of how retransmission consent between broadcasters and cable TV works.

"There have been enough issues raised," he said during a brief news conference at the Cable Show. "It's necessary for us to review the framework and ask if there are ways to improve it."

Genachowski said there is also a review going forward into media ownership rules, which the FCC is obligated to do every so often, and that will happen this year. He said an upcoming hearing in California is part of the process.

While not taking a position on media ownership, Genachowski said the FCC recognizes that there are changes in the marketplace. At a time when many newspapers are in financial trouble, rules could be loosened to end restrictions that in most cases prohibit a company from owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market.

On the question of whether a section of the national broadband plan -- which would allow broadcasters to sell a portion of the spectrum to raise money would end up meaning smaller, weaker companies will sell -- resulting in reduced diversity especially among women and minorities -- Genachowski argued that it could actually be helpful to them. He said they could raise money and still operate by sharing digital spectrum with another outlet in the same area.

When asked why the U.S. continues to lag other countries in broadband access for its citizens, Genachowski mentioned affordability and "digital literacy," meaning people don't have the information and tools necessary to use digital.

"There's no silver bullet to attack the problem," he added. "We waited too long to make (broadband) a priority in this country. Others moved more quickly."

Genachowski said the FCC's goal is to have a much greater broadband system available by the year 2020.

Asked if it was time to rewrite the Telecom Act, which passed in 1996, Genachowski deferred to Congress but said the FCC would be a resource if it tackles the issue.

He declined comment on the pending NBC-Comcast deal.