News Headlines from the Sept. 30 Radioshow

These are the news headlines as read on the Sept. 30 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Legislators Considering Options for Analog TV Spectrum and DTV Deadline; BitTorrent Gets $8.75M in Venture Capital; Iowa Citizens Challenging Sinclair TV License; CPB Elects Republican Activists To Lead Board

Legislators Considering Options for Analog TV Spectrum and DTV Deadline
The availability of telecommunications spectrum for emergency communications, especially for first-responders in the event of a major incident, has been a hot topic ever since 9/11. In the past, Congress has been licking its lips over the potential revenue that could come from auctioning off the analog TV spectrum that broadcasters will vacate when the transition to digital TV is complete. But now some lawmakers are starting to take seriously the need to dedicate some of that spectrum for emergency use.

The Senate Commerce Committee is working on a digital television bill that is due to be passed and submitted to the Senate Budget Committee by Oct. 26. At a Sept. 29 hearing on the needs of first responders, Commerce Committee Chair Senator Ted Stevens promised to include a provision freeing spectrum for public safety uses.

The House held a similar hearing, where the telecommunications subcommittee Chair, Fred Upton, announced that he intends to offer language for a House bill that would use proceeds from an analog TV spectrum auction to fund interoperability efforts.

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, first responders are challenged by a lack of interoperable emergency communications.

Lawmakers are also seriously considering instituting a so-called hard date for the transition to all digital TV broadcasts. In 1997 Congress decided that broadcasters could keep and use their currently allotted analog spectrum if at least 15 percent of US households were not yet capable of receiving digital broadcasts by 2007. But legislators are now considering doing away with that loophole.

In light of the communications needs illuminated by Hurricane Katrina, Senator John McCain has floated a proposal to make 2007 the hard date for the transition to digital TV. However, Commerce Committee Chair Senator Ted Stevens is pushing for 2009, a date already agreed to in principle by legislators and broadcasters before Katrina hit.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also debating a subsidy, funded by the analog spectrum auction, to help households purchase set-top converter boxes to allow their analog televisions to receive digital TV signals. Republican members would like a $1 billion subsidy, whereas committee Democrats are pushing for $2.5 billion or more.

BitTorrent Gets $8.75M in Venture Capital
Another file-sharing application is hitting the big time with $8.75 million in venture capital. Bit-Torrent, one of the most popular file sharing systems on the Internet, says it will use the capital to make itself more appealing to Hollywood, which has traditionally been extremely hostile to file sharing technologies.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that file-sharing service Grokster and StreamCast Networks, which were sued by the MGM studio, could be held liable for their users’ actions.

BitTorrent differs from most filesharing systems in that it does not utilize any sort of centralized servers or directories of files that are available on its network. Its unique in that it allows any computer on the Internet become a source for a shared file, and then every computer that runs the BitTorrent application and downloads a particular file can then upload a part of it to another downloader. Through this system the load of making a file available for download is split amongst many different hosts, greatly reducing the bandwidth costs for each individual host. The speed for downloading files is generally increased, as well, compared to hosting a file for download on a single web server.

Like any filesharing system BitTorrent can be used for sharing files intended to be freely distributed, in addition to sharing copyrighted works. Up to now, there has been no profit model associated with BitTorrent, which is another way it differs from networks like Grokster, which profit from ads served out to users of its service.

Because BitTorrent has no centralized servers or directories, independent directories of BitTorrent content have appeared on the Internet, and many have been shut down by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the FBI for providing pointers to copyrighted content being shared via BitTorrent.

With its influx of venture capital, BitTorrent hopes to woo Hollywood into using its software system to distribute its content, rather than using networks operated by the likes of Google and Yahoo. BitTorrent may be a more cost effective method for distributing large video files, since the cost for distribution is mitigated by files being hosted by many of the computers that download the file.

But it remains to be seen if BitTorrent users will be willing to allow their computers to act as hosts for content files that others are profiting from. ItÂ’s one thing to allow your computer and broadband connection to be used to help host content as part of a grassroots network, where that content might not otherwise get distributed. But itÂ’s another to allow your resources to be used by a Hollywood studio, which may also lock up that content using Digital Rights Management.

Iowa Citizens Challenging Sinclair TV License
A citizens group in Iowa City, Iowa, is getting ready to challenge the license of their local Sinclair-owned TV station, KGAN. Charlie Miller, of Iowan for Better Local TV, says that the group was galvanized this year when Iowa City professor and blogger Ted Remington was attacked on air by Sinclair vice-president for corporate relations Mark Hyman on HymanÂ’s nightly commentary piece called The Point.

RemingtonÂ’s blog is called The Counterpoint, and on it he writes responses and corrections to the HymanÂ’s commentaries. According to Miller Remington was actually contacted by Sinclair about the prospect of providing his counterpoint to the program, perhaps even on air. But that never worked out.

Instead, on the Feb. 16 edition of the Point, Hyman attacked Remington, accusing him of being soft on college students who plagiarize. Miller from Iowans for Better Local TV says that the accusation was a “fabrication,” and that Hyman was essentially doing what Miller calls a character assassination against Remington.

Miller says that his group contacted the local Sinclair station in order to protest HymanÂ’s attack and obtain air time for Remington to rebut, but the local station manager told the group that all complaints and requests would have to be directed to SinclairÂ’s corporate headquarters. The group received no response from Sinclair.

Sinclair was in the national spotlight in 2004 due to the companyÂ’s controversial decision to bar its ABC stations from airing an episode of Nightline that featured a rundown of the names of US solidiers killed in Iraq, and for airing a program during the election that critics say was intended to attack the Viet Nam service record of then-democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Sinclair owns the largest number TV stations in the country, a total of 62, focusing on small and mid-size markets, and has also come under fire for its NewsCentral program, which strips down local news programs to a skeleton crew to cover a few local stories, while all other national, international, sports and weather stories are broadcast from SinclairÂ’s Maryland studios.

NewsCentral airs on KGAN in Iowa City, but does not yet air on Sinclair owned WICD-TV here in Champaign.

Iowans for Better Local TV is also co-sponsoring a town hall meeting on the future of media, along with the media reform group, Free Press. The FCCÂ’s two democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, will attend this event which is happening on Oct. 5 at the University of IowaÂ’s Pomerantz Center.

CPB Elects Republican Activists To Lead Board
In a 5-3 vote that pitted republicans against other board members, the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting elected Cheryl Halpern and Gay Hart Gaines as its new leaders. Both women are enormous contributers to the Republican Party. Halpern, who replaces embattled outgoing chair Ken Tomlinson, donated over $227,000 to political candidates and parties in 2004, nearly all of it to Republicans. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this makes Cheryl Halpern and her husband Fred the 79th top individual political donors in the country.
Halpern, who lives in Livingston, New Jersey, has described herself in campaign filings as an investor, private investigator, a homemaker and as self-employed.
She was quoted in the New Jersey Jewish News in September 2000 as saying that George W. Bush was “a dear friend and a mensch,” and that he stayed in her home in 1988.
She told a Senate Panel in 2003 that that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting needs more authority to address political bias on public TV shows. She was a member of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, from August 1995 to November 2002, serving with Tomlinson for part of that time.

Tomlinson’s term as CPB chairman was marked by controversy over whether he improperly injected political influence into the Washington agency. Tomlinson said he tried to balance a liberal bias at the agency.