On March 22, after less than four years in office, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that he would leave that position within the coming weeks.
Genachowski’s announcement surprised some, though it had been the subject of rumor in some quarters. It also stoked speculation over who might succeed him. I hope the president chooses someone more familiar with public, education and government channels than Genachowski seemed to be.
As a reporter, I have fairly good access to federal officials, including the commissioners and chairman. I use those opportunities to ask questions that I believe GV readers would want to ask.
In July 2012 I was able to ask Genachowski if the situation in which state cable authorities are granting statewide franchises to cable companies without requiring them to fund PEG channels is “in the spirit of the Cable Act.”
Genachowski seemed confused by the question. To his credit, he said, “I’m not familiar with that specifically.” But that has not been the only time Genachowski seemed unfamiliar with PEG or the details of the law that enables municipalities to establish those channels.
In November 2012, the FCC revised low-powered FM radio application rules to make it easier for nonprofit broadcasters to obtain an FM license. During the Q&A at that meeting, I again asked about the state franchising issue, and whether that was an area where the FCC can get involved in.
In his answer, Genachowski at first rambled about the need for diversity in broadcasting, then said the action on low-powered FM radio would help PEG channels and that the Internet was an opportunity for such broadcasters.
However, he never said if the FCC could get involved in the state franchising issue. If Genachowski knows about PEG channels, he knows that it infuriates these broadcasters to be told that the Internet is a place for them to turn to.
Why? Because PEG production costs are paid from the fees cable providers pay to municipalities to operate within a city or county. Lack of funding from those fees is killing PEG channels in states with statewide franchising; and they do not expect to get financial support from YouTube.
It is true that broadcasting is a huge enterprise full of complex issues, but the FCC leadership should have some knowledge about the most pressing issue facing PEG channels. (Another: cable companies in some states have begun charging PEG stations to broadcast on the cable channels reserved for them.)
GV urges that the person selected as the next FCC chair is aware of PEG issues and willing to get involved.