October 30, 2013
The Senate unanimously confirmed Tom Wheeler, an investor and former industry lobbyist, to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday. The vote was delayed for two weeks by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who expressed concern about Wheeler's views on political disclosure rules. Cruz lifted his objection after Wheeler assured him in a private meeting Tuesday that tougher disclosure requirements for the donors behind political TV ads are "not a priority" for him. The Senate also unanimously confirmed Michael O'Rielly, a staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), to one of the two FCC seats reserved for Republicans. The confirmation of the two nominees returns the five-member commission to full-strength for the first time in five months.
Wheeler's experience as a lobbyist has led some liberals and consumer advocates to question whether he will be too close to the industries he will be in charge of regulating. But many of the people who have worked with Wheeler over the years, including liberals, say they are confident he will be a fair and aggressive chairman. "Tom Wheeler will be a strong advocate for consumers and the public interest at a time when the FCC is facing decisions that will shape the future of our nation's telephone network and the wireless, broadband, and video industries," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who initially expressed skepticism about Wheeler before Obama tapped him for the post.
Wheeler was the president of the cable industry lobby about 30 years ago and later led the lobbying group for the cellphone carriers. In recent years, he has worked at venture capital firm Core Capital, investing in technology start-ups. He was an early supporter of Obama, traveling to Iowa to campaign for him in 2007. He raised at least $200,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign and more than $500,000 for his reelection bid, according to transparency group OpenSecrets.
As FCC chairman, Wheeler will oversee the implementation of the FCC's plan to encourage TV stations to give up their broadcast licenses for auction to cellphone carriers. The additional airwaves will help cellphone carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for mobile data and could raise billions of dollars for the federal government. But the plan depends on a number of TV broadcasters voluntarily agreeing to go off the air. Wheeler may also have to decide whether to attempt to reinstate the agency's net neutrality rules if a federal court sides with Verizon and strikes them down.
President Obama has urged the FCC to dramatically expand an existing program to provide faster Internet access in schools. Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism about pouring more money into the agency's E-Rate program, which is funded through fees on monthly phone bills. A perennial issue for the FCC is how aggressively to police indecency on TV and radio. The agency has not issued any indecency fines during the Obama administration.
Wheeler will takeover from Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who will continue to serve as a commissioner. Julius Genachowski stepped down as chairman in May after four years at the agency. Praise for Wheeler poured in Tuesday from public advocacy groups, companies and trade associations. "We expect that he will work to preserve a strong FCC that will ensure an open, universally accessible and affordable communications system that serves all Americans," Gigi Sohn, president of consumer group Public Knowledge, said. Steve Largent, CEO of CTIA, the cellphone lobbying group that Wheeler once led, said Wheeler's "deep knowledge of communications issues, strong leadership and clarity of vision in the dynamically changing communications sector will benefit consumers and the economy as we migrate to an increasingly mobile world." Washington Post
The CBS Corporation is developing a 24-hour news channel that would be streamed online and would mainly repurpose video and reporting already produced by CBS News, according to executives involved in the planning. The executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because the channel, if it were to move forward, would not be publicly announced for weeks or months. The channel does not have a formal name yet, but it is known internally as CBS News Stream, the executives said. It is a collaboration between CBS News, which is spearheading the journalistic planning for the channel, and the company's interactive division, which is handling the distribution. David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, is said to be the project's biggest champion.
The project's existence was first reported by BuzzFeed on Tuesday. In response, a CBS Corporation spokesman, Dana McClintock, said that "we are currently talking to a number of partners" about a potential streaming news service. "There are all kinds of exciting opportunities offered by new platforms, and we intend to keep pursuing them," said Mr. McClintock, who declined to comment further.
For CBS, which sat, sometimes glumly, on the sidelines while its rivals created cable news channels like MSNBC, an Internet channel would be a relatively low-cost way to spread out its news-gathering costs and, maybe, reach viewers who are not home for the "CBS Evening News." It might also help attract attention to its website, CBSNews.com, which has lagged behind most other American television news sites. Executives involved in the planning emphasized that CBS News Stream would not be an investment on the scale of MSNBC, which NBC News and Microsoft started in 1996, or Fusion, the cable news and pop culture channel that ABC News and Univision started earlier this week.
Plans for the Internet channel might be best likened to a 24-hour news radio station, which intersperses live updates with prerecorded interviews and features. The channel would have video clips from news broadcasts like "CBS This Morning" and "60 Minutes," as well as additional material that did not make it onto television, presented in both a linear format like a normal cable channel and an on-demand format like a website. CBS has tried to liven up its website with new video efforts before, but to limited success. Mr. Rhodes says this time is different, according to the executives involved in the planning, because Internet streaming has become more mainstream thanks to services like Netflix and YouTube.
Virtually all of the major media companies in the United States are experimenting with Internet video destinations, sometimes to recycle shows and movies they already own and other times to introduce new programming. These streaming channels may someday show up right next to traditional cable channels on the app-like interfaces that are gradually replacing old on-screen guides. But CBS, if it decides to start CBS News Stream, will enter an ever-more-crowded marketplace. Another potential obstacle could be the company's agreements with its affiliate stations, which prevent CBS from live-streaming its newscasts except in certain circumstances. The executives said that any Internet channel would respect those agreements. New York Times
Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt disclosed to employees on Tuesday that he is undergoing treatment for cancer but said he will continue working until his retirement at the end of the year. Britt, who has been CEO since 2001, said in a memo to employees that he beat melanoma five years ago but that the cancer has returned. He said doctors discovered it when they ran tests for a problem he was having with his voice over the summer.
The company had previously announced in July that Chief Operating Officer Rob Marcus, 48, would become CEO and join the company's board of directors as chairman starting January 1. Britt's health will not affect that transition plan. "I am thankful that the transition to Rob was planned early, and was well underway before I got sick. The transition has been seamless so far and is nearly complete," Britt said. Britt added that he feels "good and am optimistic about my prognosis. I have no intention of letting this cancer slow me down." Reuters
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