Martin Behavior Bugs Rep. Eshoo

2/15/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D.-Calif.) said she is “disturbed” by Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s treatment of the cable industry on a number of policy fronts.

“I don’t know what cable has done to so enrage you, but I think we need to have a conversation about that, because we have important providers throughout the country and I think the relationships are really very important,” Eshoo said on Feb. 13, at the start of a House subcommittee hearing on the digital-television transition where Martin was the lead witness.

Martin, a Republican Bush appointee, has assaulted cable with an array of regulatory mandates at a time when every market the industry serves is heavily competitive. By the time Martin is done, it is possible that cable will have joined or initiated up to 15 lawsuits aimed at overturning Martin-sponsored regulations.

“I am disturbed, most frankly, chairman Martin, about the treatment of cable by you,” said Eshoo, a member of the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee. “I want to hear more about what is so troubling you about them.”

In his response, Martin said his policies were designed to lower cable rates, repeating his view that cable prices have about doubled since 1995. Martin brought along a chart mapping cable rate trends.

Testifying later in the day, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow began with an aside designed to take Martin to task over his cable rate analysis.

McSlarrow referred to Martin’s chart as his “American Express card — because he never leaves home without it.”

Cable’s top lobbyist went on to accuse Martin of making “false and deceptive” of use of cable rate data to portray cable in the most negative light possible.

In his remarks, Martin did not mention that his chart referred to nominal cable rates unadjusted for inflation, channel additions, or improvements in cable programming as measured by ratings or hours watched per household.

Nor did Martin mention that real per-channel cable rates have declined, a trend that contradicts his nominal cable data.

In fact, Martin has ordered FCC staff to stop analyzing cable rates on a per-channel basis. He said this was done because cable channels are not sold in that manner.

“The reason why I am concerned about cable is that I believe that consumers are concerned about cable,” Martin said.

Although Martin’s antipathy toward cable might be a puzzle for Eshoo, it’s no riddle for the industry. McSlarrow has said that Martin’s attack on cable stems from cable operators and programmers’ refusal to sell programming on an a la carte basis.

“I don’t see broad support for [a la carte], but you seem to stay on it,” Eshoo said to Martin. “I really think the commission really needs to be working better with cable.”

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