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The Week Ahead: Senators to question FCC nominee; July FCC agenda to be released


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The Week Ahead: Senators to question FCC nominee; July FCC agenda to be released

The media and communications industries will get a better sense of the future direction of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission during the week of June 18 as senators get their first chance to speak publicly with the agency's next potential Democratic commissioner and as the agency's Republican chairman releases draft versions of the agenda items for the commission's July open meeting.

The hunt for a new FCC commissioner:

On June 20, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to consider two presidential nominees, including Geoffrey Starks, who President Donald Trump nominated as a commissioner for the FCC. The other nominee is Peter Feldman, who Trump nominated as a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Though Starks has years of experience in public service and currently serves as the assistant chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, he is not well known on Capitol Hill and his positions on major policy issues such as net neutrality and broadcast ownership remain largely undisclosed. At the Enforcement Bureau, he sits on the Universal Service Fund Council, coordinating issues regarding communications services for low-income and rural Americans. Prior to joining the FCC in 2015, Starks was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve at the U.S. Justice Department, where he worked as a senior counsel in the office of the Deputy Attorney General. In this role, Starks advised on civil, criminal, cyber and national security matters.

If confirmed, Starks would fill the seat recently vacated by Democrat Mignon Clyburn for a term that would run through June 30, 2022. Since Clyburn's exit, the five-seat commission has been down to four, including three Republicans and one Democrat.

The July agenda:

On or about June 21, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is set to release his agenda for the agency's July open meeting, scheduled for July 12.

Early on in his chairmanship, Pai established the practice of publicly releasing the text of draft proposals and reports three weeks ahead of the scheduled meeting. "We believe that releasing these documents — rather than keeping them behind closed doors until after our vote — will increase the public's understanding of our decision-making process, and result in final rules that better serve the public interest," Pai said February 2017.

Though no official documents have thus far been released for the July meeting, speculation is already running rampant that the agenda will include a vote on increasing the 39% national audience reach cap, which prohibits a single broadcast station group from owning TV stations that together reach more than 39% of U.S. TV households. There are two big questions investors and broadcasters will be looking for Pai's draft order to answer this week: How high will the cap be raised? And what happens to the current UHF discount, which allows stations broadcasting in the UHF spectrum, or on channels 14 to 51, to attribute only 50% of the TV households in their designated market areas toward the overall 39% cap?

One proposal that has attracted a great deal of attention comes from eight local broadcasters, including Hearst Television Inc., Scripps Media Inc., Raycom Media Inc. and Gray Television Inc. The proposal calls for the FCC to set the national ownership cap at 50% of U.S. TV households and to eliminate the UHF discount. Additionally, the proposal would "grandfather" pre-existing ownership combinations that exceed the 50% cap. Speaking at the S&P Global Market Intelligence TV & Radio and Finance Summit last week, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. President and CEO Christopher Ripley referenced the proposal, saying that if 50% is indeed the new cap, the company might have to reconsider the structure of its pending deal to buy Tribune Media Co. As it stands, even with announced divestitures, the Sinclair/Tribune deal would exceed a flat 50% cap by at least eight percentage points, according to an FCC filing.

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June 19 The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security will convene a hearing titled "Cambridge Analytica and Other Facebook Partners: Examining Data Privacy Risks."
June 20 The Senate Commerce Committee will convene a hearing to consider the nominations of Geoffrey Starks, who President Donald Trump nominated as a commissioner for the FCC and of Peter Feldman, who Trump nominated as a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
June 20 The House Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled "Illicit Use of Virtual Currency and the Law Enforcement Response."
June 21 The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing on "The Need for U. S. Leadership on Digital Trade."
June 22 The House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Subcommittee on Space will hold a joint hearing titled "Space Situational Awareness: Whole of Government Perspectives on Roles and Responsibilities."
The FCC:
June 21 FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to release his agenda and the draft items for the agency's July meeting.
June 21 The FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will hold a webinar on Wireless Emergency Alerts and the Emergency Alert System.
Industry events:
June 18 - 19 The Wilson Center will host the Trans-Atlantic Symposium on ICT and Policy, focused on key aspects of information and communications technology.
June 19 - 20 Nordtree will host the Automated Driving Systems Conference.
June 19 The Technology Policy Institute will host an event titled "The AT&T/Time Warner Decision: What it Means for Technology and Media Mergers."
June 19 The Federal Communications Bar Association will host a luncheon to discuss legal and policy careers focused on the internet of things.
June 20 The First Responder Network Authority will hold a combined committee and board meeting.
June 20 The Federal Communications Bar Association will host a luncheon with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
June 21 The American Antitrust Institute will host its annual conference "Antitrust at a Crossroads: Plotting the Policy Course for the Next Decade." Experts from law, economics and policy will be speaking.
June 21 American Enterprise Institute will host an event titled "Patent issues in 2018: A conversation with US Patent and Trademark Office Director Andrei Iancu."
June 21 The Telecommunications Industry Association will hold an event titled "Federal Spectrum Policy for the 5G Era."
Cybersecurity events:
June 19 The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies will host an event focused on the possibility for U.S. privacy legislation in the wake of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.

Stories of note:

The Week Ahead Europe: EU moves to regulate artificial intelligence (A new "Week Ahead" feature focused on European TMT policy)

Sinclair execs address potential 50% media ownership cap, impact to Tribune deal

House digital subcommittee tackles targeted online advertising at hearing

AT&T/Time Warner cited as new M&A precedent, but legal experts advise caution

Update: Comcast makes formal all-cash offer for Fox assets

Update: Judge allows AT&T/Time Warner deal, opening door for further M&A

Advocates gird for longer battle as new internet regulatory regime begins