Barton Puts Out Mixed Signals About Martin

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Washington – Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is putting out mixed signals about his opinion of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, saying the regulatory chief isn’t “anti-cable” but is continuing to search for problems within cable that don’t exist.

Barton, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, discussed the FCC chairman and cable in an interview with C-SPAN in connection with the network’s “Communicators” series.

“I would not say the chairman is anti-cable. He apparently has an agenda that is not as deregulatory as I would hope that a Republican chairman would be with regards to the cable industry,” Barton said. “It appears to me that he sometimes seems to be searching for a problem to solve which simply in my opinion isn’t there in the cable industry.”

From cable’s perspective, Martin has been harassing it with punitive mandates because cable operators have denied Martin’s request that they sell channels on an a la carte basis. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had to pull out all the stops last month to block Martin from relying on suspect data to charge off in a new regulatory direction for cable.

Barton helped NCTA thwart Martin’s attempt to get the FCC to declare that cable effectively had 70% U.S. household penetration, which could have triggered a provision in federal that allows the FCC to “promulgate any additional rules necessary to provide diversity of information sources.” NCTA thought Martin would use that language to impose a la carte mandates.

“Are (cable’s) problems so big that they need to be re-regulated, I don’t think so,” Barton said. “I would hope that chairman Martin and the other commissioners could move on to other things that would benefit the American consumer than re-regulating cable.”

On Dec. 18, Martin is expected to gain passage for a rule that would ban any cable company from serving more than 30% of pay-TV homes nationally. Last month, the FCC slashed cable leased access rates by 75% percent. Sometime next year, Martin is hoping to force cable programming suppliers like the Walt Disney Co. to wholesale their channels to cable and satellite providers on an a la carte basis.

Asked if Martin is treating cable unfairly, Barton did not support cable’s critique that Martin’s is deliberately targeting the industry.

“I think the cable industry is probably scrutinized a little bit more closely, but I don’t think overall they have been unfairly treated,” Barton said.

The interview will air Dec. 15 on C-SPAN at 6:30 p.m.; Dec. 17 on C-SPAN 2 at 8 am; and Dec. 17 on C-SPAN 2 at 8 p.m.

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