ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC INTEREST OBLIGATIONS OF
DIGITAL TELEVISION BROADCASTERS
CO-CHAIRS: Leslie Moonves; Norman Ornstein
(Meeting transcript available on Committee website, www.ntia.doc.gov/pubintadvcom/pubint.htm)
TIME and PLACE: October 22--23, 1997, at the Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
PURPOSE: Inaugural meeting held to announce the members of the Committee and brief the members on the history and evolution of the public interest standard, the relevant provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the implementation and anticipated benefits of digital technology.
ESTIMATED SIZE OF AUDIENCE: 100 in the Department of Commerce Auditorium
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
Leslie Moonves, Co-Chair
Norman J. Ornstein, Co-Chair
American Enterprise Institute
Chairman and CEO
Public Media, Inc.
Frank M. Blythe
Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc.
Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Founder, Action for Children's Television
Harold C. Crump
Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc.
Frank H. Cruz
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Robert W. Decherd
CEO, Chairman of the Board, and President
A. H. Belo Corporation
William F. Duhamel, Ph.D.
Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises
Robert D. Glaser*
Chairman and CEO
James Fletcher Goodmon
President and CEO
Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc.
Paul A. La Camera
President and General Manager
Newton N. Minow*
Professor, Communications Policy and Law
Counsel, Sidley & Austin
Shelby Schuck Scott
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
Gigi B. Sohn
Media Access Project
Karen Peltz Strauss
Legal Counsel for Telecommunications Policy
National Association of the Deaf
Cass R. Sunstein*
Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor
University of Chicago Law School
Independent Television Service
Karen M. Edwards, Designated Federal Officer
Anne Stauffer, Committee Liaison Officer
*Member not present at October 23 session.
SUMMARY OF GENERAL MEETING
The inaugural meeting of the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (Advisory Committee or PIAC) began at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, October 22, 1997, with brief remarks from Secretary of Commerce William Daley, followed by the Keynote Address by Vice President Al Gore.
OCTOBER 22, 1997
Secretary Daley welcomed the leaders from the public and private sectors who comprise the Committee to the Department of Commerce and introduced Vice President Gore.
Secretary Daley placed the Committee's work in context, noting that forty-five years ago, Edward R. Murrow said of television: " This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, and it can even inspire, but only if human beings are willing to use it to those ends." Secretary Daley concluded that our Nation is in a unique position with respect to digital television, and that the Committee could offer a real vision of where the broadcast industry could go in the new digital era and provide a framework to help make television the instrument of good of which Edward Murrow spoke.
Vice President Gore thanked the members of the Committee for agreeing to serve and told the Committee that its role was to study one of the most important questions of our time--how to ensure that one of our Nation's most precious public properties continues to serve the public's needs, not just for entertainment, but for enlightenment, education and civic debate.
Vice President Gore began by tracing the history of public interest programming on television from the FCC set-aside of 12 percent of television channels for educational, noncommercial use and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, to more recent events like expanded children's programming and easier, equal, affordable access by federal candidates to broadcast time. Vice President Gore concluded that the tradition of trusteeship by broadcasters must continue, especially since a typical child watches 25,000 hours of television before his or her 18th birthday.
Vice President Gore characterized the transition from analog to digital as the greatest transformation in the history of the television industry, even bigger than the shift to color. He compared the transition to the difference between a one-man band and a symphony, and shared his vision that if we prepare for digital television properly, it will be more dynamic and more flexible, more competitive and more interactive, and potentially much more responsive to the needs and interests of the American people.
Vice President Gore acknowledged that it is unclear whether digital technology will take the form of one high definition television (HDTV) signal or multiple standard definition (SDTV) signals, be broadcast to computers or televisions, or produce dynamic changes in programming. However, he noted that digital spectrum is a valuable asset that will bring an explosion of opportunities for broadcasters.
Vice President Gore then called for broadcasters to make a significant commitment to the public interest, consistent with the obligation to sustain the First Amendment freedoms critical to all media and a respect for the free enterprise approach that governs our airwaves. He confirmed that he expected the work of the Committee to be broad and offered a set of challenges that he and President Clinton believe must be met if the digital medium is to serve all Americans:
(i) the need for children's programming, both in terms of helping parents screen out what they believe to be inappropriate for their own children and giving them more of what they want and society knows to be good;
(ii) the need for free TV time for candidates for public office, in order to create a meaningful public forum that will help secure the survival of our democracy;
(iii) the recognition that establishing a clear and meaningful public interest obligation in the digital age may mean something different than a number of hours or percentage of broadcast time; and
(iv) the opportunity to define the obligations of digital broadcasters in other areas such as public service announcements, closed-captioning and video description.
Vice President Gore concluded by urging the Committee to remember that the broadcast spectrum is not a mere commodity, but a public trust and to view themselves as guardians of that trust.
Vice President Gore's address was accompanied by a video presentation of how digital television could serve the public interest.
General Committee Session
Mr. Leslie Moonves, President of CBS Television and Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee convened the meeting, welcomed the members, and made brief remarks. Among other things, Mr. Moonves urged the members to look at the complex issues facing the Committee with a fresh perspective and to be open to findings that challenge conventional wisdom and preconceptions. He acknowledged the intrinsic link between broadcasting and the cultural and political life of America and proposed that the Committee look at a comprehensive list of issues facing broadcasters, including children's television, public service announcements, closed captioning, and the support of national and local causes.
Dr. Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee also made brief remarks. He told the members that he foresaw two complementary roles for the Committee: (i) to look systematically at what the new technology will mean and at the existing obligations of analog broadcasters, and to consider whether the current obligations should be retained or new obligations added; and (ii) to look at innovative approaches to public interest obligations, including market-based approaches.
The eighteen members of the Committee who were present introduced themselves and gave their affiliations.
Karen Edwards, Designated Federal Officer for the Advisory Committee and Telecommunications Policy Specialist at NTIA, reviewed the basic operating guidelines for federal advisory committees, including the requirements imposed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Government in the Sunshine Act, the Executive Order creating PIAC, and the Committee's Charter. Ms. Edwards explained that the spirit of these laws is to facilitate public participation in the Committee's deliberations.
The Committee then entered a business session and agreed to the following:
To schedule its next meeting for December 5, 1997, with a tentative agenda to include panel presentations on the range of perspectives and experiences in the public interest and broadcasting communities, and on digital technology;
To pursue the possibility of holding one or two meetings in other U.S. cities; and
To approach the President and Vice President about extending its current June 1, 1998 report deadline to October 1998 to allow the Committee a full year within which to deliberate and issue recommendations.
Briefing on the History and Evolution of the Public Interest Standard
Erwin Krasnow, partner at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, briefed the Committee on the origins of the public interest standard and the development of that standard by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), its predecessor the Federal Radio Commission, and the courts. Mr. Krasnow distributed a briefing paper he prepared for the Committee, entitled The "Public Interest" Standard: The Elusive Search for the Holy Grail.
Mr. Krasnow characterized the public interest standard as vague and elastic and explained that the FCC is a "holy grail" agency because its mandate is to achieve the public interest. Mr. Krasnow then reviewed how successive regimes at the FCC have oscillated in their methods of and fervor for applying that standard.
Mr. Krasnow also discussed the current public interest obligations of broadcasters, including: providing educational and other programs responsive to general community needs and the needs of children, educational and informational programming by noncommercial licensees, parental choice in programming, television program ratings, restrictions on airing indecent and obscene programming, restrictions on advertising, access to broadcast facilities by political candidates, and video programming accessibility.
Briefing on the Relevant Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
Karen Edwards then outlined the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 relevant to digital television (DTV) and the work of the Committee and explained how the FCC has implemented those provisions. Ms. Edwards discussed broadcasters' eligibility to receive DTV licenses, minimum service requirements for DTV licensees, the conditions under which broadcasters may offer ancillary and supplementary services, the public interest requirement for digital broadcasters, the construction schedule for DTV stations, and the schedule for returning the analog spectrum on which broadcasters currently operate.
Public Comment, Questions and Answers
Mr. Moonves opened the floor to public comment. Brad Thompson, Assistant Professor, College of Communications, at Pennsylvania State University addressed the Committee. Among other things, Mr. Thompson urged the Committee to (i) facilitate public participation by holding meetings around the country, (ii) make educating the public one of its functions, (iii) eliminate the public comment requirement of 35 paper copies, (iv) affirmatively solicit public participation in addition to maintaining a website, and (v) consider issues of broad social importance.
The Committee agreed to waive the public comment requirement of 35 paper copies, if necessary in individual cases.
Mr. Moonves adjourned the first day of the meeting at 4:30p.m.
OCTOBER 23, 1997
Dr. Ornstein reconvened the meeting.
Briefing: What Makes Digital Different?
Richard E. Wiley, senior partner at Wiley, Rein & Fielding and former Chairman and General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission, briefed the Committee on the history of digital television, including the development of the Grand Alliance System, the debate over scanning formats, and the FCC rules governing Digital Television Service.
Mr. Wiley also discussed future digital services, and whether and how must-carry obligations extend to HDTV and SDTV. He concluded that although numerous market and regulatory issues remain unresolved, the U.S. video market is robust, diverse and increasingly digital.
Demonstration of High Definition Television
Jim Goodmon, President of Capitol Broadcasting, and Tom Beauchamp, Chief Engineer at WRAL-TV, Raleigh, North Carolina continued the discussion about what makes digital different.
Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL-TV, a CBS affiliate, which has been broadcasting an HDTV signal since July 1996.
Mr. Goodmon explained three critical differences between HDTV and analog: (i) a change in the screen size from a 4 by 3 to 16 by 9 aspect ratio; (ii) an increase in the number of scanning lines from 525 to 1,080; and (iii) the five discrete channels of CD-quality audio available with HDTV.
Mr. Goodmon also explained that the digital television signal is superior to analog because it eliminates the noise, ghosting or snow that sometimes accompanies analog signals. Mr. Beauchamp described the process WRAL is using to test its digital signal and confirmed a 95 percent success rate in transmitting a clear signal within a 60 mile radius.
By playing different programs filmed in HDTV, Mr. Goodmon and Mr. Beauchamp demonstrated the difference in picture quality between a high definition digital signal and an analog signal.
Public Comment, Questions, and Answers
No public comment.
Discussion of future agenda
The Committee tentatively outlined a substantive agenda to include children and family issues, political advertising, the current public interest activities of broadcasters, and innovative
approaches to the future of public interest obligations.
Mr. Moonves thanked the Committee members and adjourned the meeting at 11:45a.m.
Meeting Materials (available separately)
Leslie Moonves, Co-Chair
Norman Ornstein, Co-Chair