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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).
|November 19, 1998|
STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN WILLIAM E. KENNARD
In many respects, the public interest obligations imposed by Congress under section 25 of the 1992 Cable Act were truly visionary. When Congress enacted section 25, DBS service was not being provided. In fact, not one DBS provider had even launched. But Congress wisely recognized, long before many, the potential of DBS to provide high quality, diverse programming to even the most remote areas of this country. So, too, did Congress recognize the importance of making sure that spectrum, a critical natural resource, is used for the benefit all of the American people. As the Supreme Court has recently stated, "assuring that the public has access to a multiplicity of informational sources is a governmental purpose of the highest order."(1) I believe we should take this interest very seriously in managing the spectrum, and as long as I am Chairman, I will work diligently to make sure that this Commission does so as well.
To harness DBS's potential to enhance the lives of the American public, Congress set aside a portion of the spectrum used by DBS to ensure that we have access to quality programming-- programming for children, senior citizens, distance learning, health care applications, and for celebrating our diversity. Just as Congress has set aside for the public's enjoyment and benefit public spaces for parks and playgrounds, so will this "digital space" operate to ensure a richer diversity of educational and social opportunities.
It is now up to the DBS operators and the many programmers poised to take advantage of this set-aside to meet the challenge of enhancing the quality and variety of public interest programming available to the public. If recent developments are any indication, I expect the public to benefit tremendously. Long gone are the days when "public interest" programming was synonymous with "boring." Today, creative operators and programmers are responding aggressively to the public's yearning for quality public interest programming and using the various media at their disposal to meet this challenge.
While I am pleased that this Order opens up a wide array of opportunities for educational and informational DBS programming, I am disappointed in the way the Order interprets section 25's prohibition against DBS operators exercising "editorial control." I am concerned that by allowing DBS operators to select among eligible programmers, we run the risk that they will be less willing to chose and allow on to their systems diverse programming sources. We have a great opportunity here. Congress has made spectrum available. There are abundant sources of quality programming. There are parents and children all across this country who are anxious for quality broadcasts. There are groups of people, separated by geography but with common interests -- for example, language minorities and the disabled --, who can be brought together through this medium. In enacting section 25, Congress wisely sought to foster opportunities for new, alternative programming -- programming that might not always fit neatly within DBS operators' notion of what is commercially viable but that would nevertheless respond effectively to unmet public needs. In my view, the decision to allow DBS operators to select programmers makes achievement of this vision much more challenging.
Despite my concerns about this aspect of our decision, I remain confident that we can successfully achieve Congress's vision of an open and vibrant public space that enriches the lives of the American viewing public. My faith that we can achieve this vision stems both from the steps we have taken to limit the amount of set-aside channels that any single programmer can use, the fact that DBS operators will be prohibited from selecting, editing or altering the content of set-aside programming, and from my confidence that the DBS industry, an industry that has grown, matured and prospered despite amazing odds, will rise to the challenge of making these channels truly available to new and exciting programmers, as Congress intended.
And in this sense, I would like to congratulate those DBS operators who have already started to provide quality educational and informational programming. They demonstrate that the DBS industry is indeed open to new ideas and new paradigms. They show that DBS can respond to the needs of latch key children, provide foreign language programming so that hard working immigrant families can have the benefit of education, and help to raise the level of political discourse in this nation.
I challenge all DBS operators to follow the example of those who are already doing ground-breaking work in this area, and seize this tremendous opportunity. I challenge them to keep expanding their reach among the American viewing public while also giving something extremely valuable back. I will be following developments closely in the hope that they do.
1. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 512 U.S. 622, 663 (1994).