Martin’s Cable Agenda Hits A Wall

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Washington – Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s attempt to saddle the cable industry with an array of new regulatory burdens collapsed Tuesday night as the beleaguered young Bush appointee effectively lost control of his agency, forcing him to accept either outright defeat or hastily arranged face-saving compromises.

Martin -- who didn’t start the agency’s public meeting until 9:13 p.m., a nearly 12-hour delay – did walk home with one prize: rules that will force cable operators in 90 days to slash their leased access channel rates by 75%, to about 10 cents per month, per subscriber. 

But Martin, 40, had to rely on FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to pull off his leased access feat, because the other FCC Republicans, Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate, wanted no part of price-slashing blueprint.

Martin’s plans for cable started to unravel on Monday when Adelstein, McDowell and Tate rebelled and refused to support Martin’s conclusion that cable penetration had reached 70% of U.S. households, triggering a provision in federal law that could bury cable in an avalanche of new regulations. On Tuesday, Martin had to accept a quickly arranged compromise in which cable operators will have 60 days to provide the FCC with their subscriber and homes-passed data to determine whether the 70% test has been met.

Earlier Tuesday, Martin had to pull from the agenda his notice of proposed rulemaking designed to allow minority, religious and small business entities to lease spectrum from digital TV stations on a voluntary basis but then grant those same entities compulsory must carry rights on local cable systems.

Martin also had to drop proposed rules that could have forced Comcast and Time Warner, as a result of compulsory arbitration, to carry the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network and pay the networks lucrative license fees.

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