McSlarrow Fires Back at Martin

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Las Vegas— Responding to cable-hostile regulatory stances of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow last week said government intervention in the video-programming market — including a la carte mandates Martin wants — is unnecessary, because pay TV is a hotly competitive business.

“If one assumes that the video marketplace is one of intense competition, then the only sensible policy outcome is one where the government gets out of the way and let's the free market flourish,” McSlarrow said in a Cable Show speech last Tuesday (May 8). “I think that marketplace is competitive and every cable operator knows that [it is] in a competitive fire fight with satellite distributors and now telephone companies.”

Earlier in the week, Martin in a Cable Show speech restated his steadfast support for the a la carte sale of cable networks and the forced cable carriage of multiple digital programming streams transmitted by local TV stations for free to the viewing public.

Cable has been resisting Martin on both matters almost since the day he became chairman in March 2005.

McSlarrow said it was “puzzling that chairman Martin does not take” a hands-off approach to video regulation.

“I was struck by his discussion of mandated a la carte and mandated multicast carriage. There are many reasons why neither of those ideas benefits consumers,” McSlarrow said. “A la carte is a form of government enforced unbundling of what is known as the expanded basic tier. Mandated multicast carriage produces exactly the opposite result. It forces the bundling of broadcast programming that apparently couldn't gain carriage in a free market.”

Those policies, McSlarrow added, didn't add up.

“You can't have it both ways. You can't insist that every channel must be sold separately, and then require that other programming must be added to the expanded basic tier, “McSlarrow said.

The day before, Martin said cable was trying to have it “both ways” by denying consumers a la carte options and denying TV stations consumer access to their multicasting services.

The FCC, Martin has said repeatedly, lacks the authority to impose a la carte on cable. As a result, he has endorsed efforts on Capitol Hill to pass legislation that would break up of expanded basic, which is cable's most popular programming tier and includes dozens of channels, including ESPN, Discovery Channel and Fox News Channel.

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