Martin to Keep Heat on Local Governments

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Washington -- In his first sit-down press conference, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin pledged Friday to examine whether local governments are frustrating phone-company entry into video markets.

“I think we are going to make sure that we continue to look at video competition and making sure that we are doing all we can to provide a regulatory environment that has multiple providers being able to compete to provide video services,” Martin said.

AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. plan to spend billions of dollars to upgrade their facilities with fiber and battle cable and satellite companies for a share of the pay TV market.

The two phone giants, however, complain that the federal requirement to obtain local franchises is slow and local governments make unreasonable demands not really related to the provision of video programming.

Under Martin, the FCC launched a rulemaking to see if local governments are dragging out negotiations and acting unreasonably. The public-comment period closes March 28.

“Are there things the commission can do in setting up the parameters for what the local franchising authorities are able to require?” Martin said. “I think that ends up being a critical component of it.”

Martin, who took office last March 18, has not courted the media, waiting almost one year to invite FCC beat reporters into his office to discuss his agenda and field questions. The session Friday, which included about 30 reporters, took about 30 minutes. Martin's chief of staff, Dan Gonzalez, and other top aides attended.

On other cable-related issues, Martin noted that the FCC's cable-program-access rules are to expire in October 2007 unless extended by the agency. Under the rules, cable operators are banned from withholding their satellite-delivered programming services from DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp. and other cable operators.

“Increasingly, concern about getting access to content has been raised by folks at the commission,” he added.

In keeping with President Bush’s call for nationwide affordable broadband access by the end of the year, Martin said the commission would do its part to ensure that the goal is reached.

“Broadband is going to continue to be the No. 1 challenge for the commission, making sure that we have a regulatory environment in place that provides for the opportunity for the private sector to go out and invest in the next generation of networks so that they are able to bring broadband throughout the country,” Martin said.

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