Craig's Corner For Counsel: Telecommunications

This month's issue of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel has a Special Report on Texas. Included in that Special Report is an interview with Lee Emery and Ron Barger, from the Texas General Counsel Forum - a group dedicated to providing an opportunity for law department leaders to learn about leadership and best management practices. As a Silver Underwriter of the Forum, Thomson West continues to keep in-house counsel informed of the issues that are most pertinent to their profession.

In addition to the Special Report on Texas, this month's issue will feature telecommunications. I spoke with Daniel Brenner, senior Vice President for Law & Regulatory Policy at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Washington, D.C., where he has served since 1992. Dan is the author of a leading treatise on cable television law, Cable Television and Other Nonbroadcast Video Law and Policy , and serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Craig Miller: Dan, what do you think will be the top three telecommunications issues this year?

Daniel Brenner : The top issue involves the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) upcoming auction of frequencies reclaimed from the broadcaster as they switch from analog to digital transmission. Not only will this bring more wireless broadband capacity, but it will also bring more video competition to traditional distributors like cable and DBS.

A second related issue will be planning for the February 2009 digital transition. That involves broadcasters, cable operators, and equipment manufacturers. Cable subscribers will not notice any major changes, but customers with a television that gets over-the-air reception will need a converter box unless the television is newer and contains a digital tuner.

A third group of issues to watch is ownership - limits on broadcast and cable system ownership as well as merger review in the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger. The FCC has had a series of field hearings on media concentration while online media, unregulated as to ownership, grows as a share of viewer mindshare. The FCC will have to decide what metrics make the most sense in this changing environment.

Craig Miller: Obviously the FCC will be taking a key role in this issue, but what will that mean?

Daniel Brenner: The FCC has become center stage for most key communications battles. In 2006 Congress worked hard at drafting an update of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Those efforts did not culminate in a law, however. Still, Congress has been interested in public safety issues and spectrum policy (which will benefit in the form of additional spectrum for fire and police as a result of the 700 megahertz auctions). And Congress is likely to keep watch on how broadband networks manage traffic, especially as more video courses the network. These "network neutrality" issues have led to little actual regulation but a lot of attention - from telephone companies and cable operators on one side and Google, and other large users of network capacity on the other.

Thanks to Daniel Brenner, co-author of Cable Television and Other Nonbroadcast Video Law and Policy. The book is now available at

Published September 1, 2007.