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Copps Absorbed by DTV Transition

Other issues on tap must wait for attention

In his first press briefing since becoming Interim FCC chairman, Michael Copps seemed relaxed, or rather, tired. DTV is absorbing all the commission’s focus for the time-being; Copps called it the most demanding task for the agency.

“Dislocation and confusion are coming on Feb. 17 and 18,” he said, but added that a total analog cut-off in February would have been worse.

When I asked the chairman when we might see action on other issues, such as the FM digital power increase or allowing AMs to operate on FM translators, Copps said he’s asked each of the bureaus “to supply lists of things that have been sitting around. [We’re] trying to get a handle on that and trying to tee those things up.” He mentioned putting out a notice or NPRM on some issues, but was not specific about which issues, because it “depends on how long this [DTV transition mess] lasts.” He hasn’t had a chance to go through the lists yet.

Asked by reporters about reports that Sirius-XM is close to declaring bankruptcy and did the FCC’s long review of that merger have a hand in that, Copps said he’d let the analysts do the talking on that, and that he would not comment. Pressed for comment about some subscribers who say their subscription rates are going up, Copps said he thought “We need to monitor that.”

We’ve reported that the satcaster agreed to maintain its basic subscription price for three years as a condition for merger approval, but has now raised other package prices.

He was also questioned about the status of satellite radio’s minority program channels; the deadline for the channel lineup is set for late this month. The set-aside channels for minority and NCE programming, six on each platform, were a condition of merger approval. The agency still needs to issue rules detailing how that would work.

Wrapping up the briefing, the acting chairman said minority ownership of broadcast stations, meaning TV and radio, is an example of another issue the agency should be working on. “The time to be working on that is now. We need to have the underpinnings to satisfy the courts.” He said he is putting that into motion, though was not specific about exactly what was meant nor the timetable.

He would not speculate on how long he will be acting chairman.

Copps demeanor was serious and he handled the questions well. We most appreciated that he began the briefing on time, a trait that had been lost with Chairman Martin. And there were no gaffes — remember Michael Powell’s quip about there being a “Mercedes divide” when asked if there was a digital divide in this country in his first press briefing as chair?