Martin Beefs About Cable

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Washington— Taking another swipe at the country’s top pay TV provider, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin complained about cable industry rates and packages in testimony Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The FCC leader told lawmakers that cable rates had jumped 38% from 2000 to 2005 and 93% from 1995 to 2005, while the price of other communications products — local and long distance telephone and wireless phone service — had “decreased dramatically.”

Martin, who supports the a la carte sale of cable networks and cash back for parents who block indecent cable content, went on to complain that cable program tiers represented a flawed case of one-size-fits-all marketing.

“For those who want to receive 100 channels or more, today’s most popular cable packages may be a good value,” Martin said. “But according to Nielsen, most viewers watch fewer than two dozen channels. For them, the deal isn’t as good.”

Martin’s comments came during the agency’s first oversight hearing since Democrats took control of the House and Senate last month. Martin is scheduled to appear before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on Feb. 15.

With regard to cable prices, Martin continued to rely on nominal figures, which are unadjusted for a number of things, including monetary inflation, program quality, ratings and other proxies for consumer satisfaction with cable service.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association complained that Martin’s statistical methods ignored key developments not just in video but in voice and data markets.

“A real analysis of today’s marketplace shows the actual price of cable’s bundle of video, Internet and telephone services is 20% lower than the price of the same package of services 10 years ago. Chairman Martin’s comments reflect an outdated, incomplete and wholly inaccurate analysis,” NCTA vice president of communications Brian Dietz said.

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