President Clinton established the Advisory Committee on the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters -- or PIAC, for Public Interest Advisory Committee -- on March 11, 1997.(1) The President charged the Advisory Committee with determining how the principles of public trusteeship that have governed broadcast television for more than 70 years should be applied in the new television environment created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Specifically, the President requested that the Advisory Committee advise Vice President Gore on the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters as this new transmission technology replaces existing analog broadcasting techniques.
Under the mandate of the Telecommunications Act, Congress assigned existing television broadcasters an additional 6 megahertz of spectrum to facilitate the transition from analog to digital transmission technologies. New digital transmission protocols will enable broadcasters to offer high-definition television, additional channels, new programming formats and information services, and other innovations.
Because of its expected impact on broadcast programming, industry practices, and marketplace competition, digital television is the most significant transformation in the history of broadcast television. Not surprisingly, it raises new questions about how public interest obligations that have historically applied to television broadcasters should evolve.
On June 28, 1997, President Clinton appointed Leslie Moonves, President of CBS Television, and Dr. Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to co-chair the Advisory Committee. Along with 19 prominent Americans appointed as members of the panel on October 22, 1997, the Advisory Committee was directed to explore the complex ramifications of digital television and to develop formal recommendations concerning the public interest obligations of digital broadcasters. (See Appendix G for biographies of Advisory Committee members.)
Members of the Advisory Committee were selected on the basis of their leadership in the commercial and noncommercial broadcasting industry, computer industries, film and video production, the artistic community, academic institutions, public interest organizations, and the advertising community. A twentieth member was appointed in December 1997, bringing total Advisory Committee membership to 22.
Initially, the President gave the Advisory Committee a June 1, 1998, deadline for submitting a report and recommendations to Vice President Gore. The President extended that deadline first to October 1, 1998, and then to December 31, 1998.
During its 15-month life -- October 1997 to December 1998 -- the Advisory Committee met on eight occasions: six in Washington, DC, one in Los Angeles, California, and one in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At those meetings, the Advisory Committee heard from expert panels, solicited the views of the public, and deliberated on the most appropriate policies for advancing the public interest in digital broadcasting.
EXPERT PANELS AND PUBLIC OUTREACH
The depth of the Advisory Committee's investigations is evidenced by the twelve presentations and discussions hosted by expert panels and individuals during the five fact-finding meetings held from October 1997 to April 1998. These presentations covered the following topics:
October 22-23, 1997: Washington, DC
1. The Evolution of the Public Interest Standard in Broadcasting. Broadcast attorney Erwin Krasnow of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, described the complex historical changes in the public interest standard in broadcasting since its inception in 1927.
2. Relevant Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Federal Communications Commission's Implementation Efforts. Karen Edwards, the Designated Federal Officer of the Advisory Committee and a telecommunications attorney with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, explained the statutory and administrative framework that will guide the evolution of digital television and any public interest requirements.
3. What Makes Digital Technology Different? Richard E. Wiley, Senior Partner in the law firm of Wiley Rein & Fielding, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service (ACATS), and the former Chairman of the FCC, offered an overview of the technical bases of digital television and the complex implications for the Advisory Committee's recommendations
4. HDTV Demonstration. James Goodmon, President and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting and Tom Beauchamp, Chief Engineer at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, disucssed the superiority of digital transmission technology and demonstrated the difference in picture quality between a high definition digital signal and an analog signal.
December 5, 1997: Washington, DC
1. Perspectives from the Public Interest Community. Leaders of prominent public interest organizations -- Andrew Jay Schwartzman, President and CEO, Media Access Project; Paul Taylor, Executive Director, Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition; and Mark Lloyd, Executive Director, Civil Rights Forum -- explained their desire to secure free airtime for political candidates, ensure responsiveness to local communities, foster diversity of expression, among other concerns.
2. Perspective from the Broadcast Industry. Leading broadcasters -- Robert Wright, CEO, NBC; W. Don Cornwell, CEO, Granite Broadcasting; and Robert T. Coonrod, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- discussed the industry's commitment to public trusteeship and localism, and the complexities and risks of moving to digital television transmissions.
January 16, 1998: Washington, DC
1. The Technology of Digital Broadcasting and the Implications for New Programming Services. Robert D. Glaser, the Chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, Inc., and two industry analysts -- Bruce M. Allan, Vice President for the Broadcast Division at Harris Corporation and Josh Bernoff, Principal Analyst for New Media Research at Forrester Research, Inc. -- discussed innovative programming services that digital technologies will make possible and the complications this creates in fashioning public interest obligations.
2 Closed Captioning and Video Description of Broadcast Programming. Karen Peltz Strauss, Legal Counsel for Telecommunications Policy for the National Association of the Deaf, and three other experts on disability access explained how new digital transmission technology will facilitate versatile new types of closed captioning and video description that can make television more accessible to individuals who have hearing and vision disabilities.
The panel comprised James Tucker, Superintendent, Maryland School for the Deaf; Larry Goldberg, Director, CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media; and Nolan Crabb, Editor, Braille Forum, American Council of the Blind.
3. Natural Disaster Information Services. Peter Ward, Chairman of the U.S. Geological Survey's Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, discussed how digital television offers new and innovative ways to warn persons at risk of impending natural disasters, and explained that utilizing the technology to its fullest extent will require close coordination among broadcasters, television set manufacturers, and emergency communications specialists.
4. Educational Programming in the Digital Era. Peggy Charren, Visiting Scholar at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and founder of Action for Children's Television, hosted a panel of five experts who described the exciting new possibilities that digital television offers for improving educational programming. The panel comprised Gordan Ambach, Executive Director, Council of State School Officers; Janet Poley, President, American Distance Education Consortium; Marilyn Gell Mason, Director, Cleveland Public Library; Fred Esplin, General Manager, KUED-TV, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Gary Poon, Executive Director, Digital Television Strategic Planning Office, PBS.
March 2, 1998: Los Angeles, California
1. Independent Programming and Access in the Digital Age. At a meeting at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communications, a panel of prominent independent producers and community leaders, moderated by James Yee, Executive Director, Independent Television Service, expressed concern about the challenges they face getting access to local and national television outlets.
The panel comprised Gerald I. Isenberg, Chairman, Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors and Executive Director, Electronic Media Programs, USC School of Cinema-Television; Herbert Chao Gunther, President and Executive Director, Public Media Center; Kelley Carpenter, Director, Southern California Indian Center; and Marian Rees, Marian Rees Associates, Inc. and Co-Chair, National Council for Families and Television.
2. Political Broadcasting. University of Chicago Law School Professor Cass R. Sustein hosted a panel of three experts who explored the possibilities of providing additional airtime for political speeches by parties and candidates.
The panel comprised Tracy A. Westen, President, Center for Governmental Studies and Adjunct Professor, Annenberg School for Communication; P. Cameron DeVore, Senior Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; and Paul Taylor, Executive Director, The Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition.
April 14, 1998: Washington, DC
1. Survey of Broadcasters' Public Service Activities. Paul A. La Camera, President and General Manager of WCVB-TV in Boston, hosted a panel that reviewed the community services that many broadcasters currently provide -- ranging from public service announcements to political debates to charity fundraising. The panel com- prised William D. McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies and Jack Goodman of the NAB.
In addition to these panels, dozens of scholarly papers and special reports were submitted to the Advisory Committee from various parties, including major reports by the Aspen Institute's Communications and Society Program, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Benton Foundation, Media Access Project, the Media Institute, and numerous individual law review and news articles. Many Advisory Committee members also submitted significant testimony or reports on topics under review.
To ensure that its deliberations could be followed by interested parties in the television industry, academia, the political area, and the general public, the Advisory Committee made a considerable outreach effort. The Advisory Committee established a website and listserv -- www.ntia.doc.gov/pubintadvcom/pubint.htm -- where meetings were announced and a wide variety of documents, including meeting transcripts, were posted. Dozens of additional documents were listed on the website and made available on request to the Secretariat of the Advisory Committee. In addition, audio recordings of Advisory Committee meetings were posted on the World Wide Web using RealAudio.
Public response to Advisory Committee deliberations was extensive. Several score of formal comments were sent to the Advisory Committee via e-mail, and dozens of members of the public appeared in person at Advisory Committee meetings.
SPECIAL PIAC SUBCOMMITTEES
Most of the efforts involved in framing the Advisory Committee's formal recommendations were undertaken by members of the following four subcommittees:
- Broadcaster Code of Conduct Task Force. After analyzing the former Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters, this subcommittee, chaired by Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago Law School, recommended principles and language for a new code of conduct for broadcasters.
- Educational Programming Task Force. This subcommittee reviewed the full Advisory Committee's discussion of educational programming in the digital age -- especially two proposals involving public broadcasting -- and developed recommendations on that basis. Lois Jean White, President of the National PTA, served as Chair.
- Minimum Public Interest Standards Working Group. Under the leadership of James Goodmon, President and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, this subcommittee drafted a set of mandatory minimum requirements for broadcasters.
- Disclosure Requirements Working Group. This subcommittee drafted recommendations concerning the types of information about public interest performance that the Advisory Committee believes broadcasters should disclose. Gigi Sohn, Executive Director of Media Access Project, chaired the subcommittee.
- Datacasting Working Group. After examining the new capabilities that datacasting will make possible, this subcommittee, headed by Robert D. Glaser, Chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, Inc., drafted recommendations on the public interest options available to broadcasters who choose to datacast.
Following its five fact-finding meetings, the Advisory Committee held three meetings to discuss issues and formulate recommendations. Those meetings were held in Minneapolis on June 8, 1998; Washington, DC, on September 9, 1998; and Washington, DC, on November 9, 1998.
As this record of investigation and deliberation suggests, the recommendations of the Advisory Committee represent one of the most sustained, thorough inquiries into the public interest obligations of television broadcasters ever conducted. (For a description of previous studies of this subject, see Section I.) The Advisory Committee has actively sought the views of the most diverse interests -- including the general public -- while attempting to reconcile divergent perspectives into a workable policy consensus. The Advisory Committee hopes that this report will serve as a valuable benchmark during future policymaking in the Administration, Congress, and Federal Communications Commission.
1) Exec. Order No. 13038, 62 Fed. Reg. 12065 (1997).