Martin Cancels FCC Meeting

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Washington—Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin canceled the agency's Dec. 18 meeting, which he was hoping to use as the start of an effort to limit the negotiating rights of hundreds of TV stations and all cable programmers.

The FCC scrapped the meeting late last Friday, announcing Martin's decision in a brief e-mail to reporters. The other four FCC members didn't release statements.

Martin, who also wanted the agency to vote on rules that would create a free wireless Internet access service nationally, came under intense pressure last week from cable programmers and some key Capitol Hill lawmakers to abandon his attempt to expand the FCC's role in policing the TV programming-acquisition market.

Last Friday, Martin faced his strongest push-back from the two Capitol Hill Democrats who will be running the commerce committees in the House and Senate next year, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.).

In a joint letter, the lawmakers effectively told Martin to give up on optional cable regulation and instead focus on TV stations’ mandatory transition to digital transmission on Feb. 17, 2009.

"We received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman today and spoke with other offices. In light of the letter, it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled. The items will remain on circulation and the Commissioners can still vote on them," FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said.

Martin’s plan would have barred any cable network from demanding access to a specific programming tier or to a certain percentage of subscribers. TV stations that insisted on compensation could not demand access to all cable subscribers. Contracts in conflict with the FCC's policy were void.

At bottom, Martin would have empowered cable operators unilaterally to decide nearly all pricing and packaging options for consumers.

Martin believed that would have reduced pressure on cable operators to raise their rates each year because they could break up expanded basic into smaller units, but nothing in Martin’s plan would actually require MSOs to do that.

Martin’s chief defender among media corporations was Cablevision Systems, the Bethpage, N.Y. cable operator, which had been encouraging him to crack down on cable networks that refused to be marketed in specialty tiers or on an a la carte basis.

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