NCTA’s McSlarrow Calls for FCC Downgrade


Washington -- National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow Tuesday endorsed a conservative think tank’s proposal that would greatly reduce the Federal Communications Commission’s oversight of all communications companies within a few years.

In a speech, McSlarrow agreed with a Progress & Freedom Foundation plan that all FCC rules should be abolished within five years and the agency should be relegated to night-watchman status, primarily concerned with consumer protection, in the same manner as the Federal Trade Commission.

Based here, the PFF is staffed with personnel who favor free markets over regulation.

McSlarrow said such a major overhaul at the 2,000-person FCC was justified because an intrusive regulatory body is unnecessary when communications markets were so hotly competitive.

“Given this reality, I think it is appropriate to take a fresh look at the regulatory framework that governs communications,” McSlarrow told a Media Institute audience filled with former and current FCC officials at the Hay-Adams Hotel here.

McSlarrow threw his support behind a major bureaucratic downgrade for the FCC in terms of the agency’s day-to-day oversight of cable, phone, satellite and broadcasting companies. The only area he didn’t explore was the agency’s role in reviewing mergers.

“The FCC would have authority to intervene in the marketplace only if it determines that marketplace competition would not adequately protect consumers against unfair methods of competition or unfair and deceptive practices. There would be a presumption against regulation and, in fact, all FCC regulations would sunset in five years,” McSlarrow said.

After a little more than two years in charge at the NCTA, McSlarrow voiced frustration with the fact that the FCC never seems to put some issues to rest. FCC chairman Kevin Martin is continuing to push to force more local-TV-station content onto cable systems despite FCC votes in 2001 and 2005 to reject such ideas.

“We have an agency that seeks more regulatory authority rather than less. Instead of focusing on how to unleash new technologies that would benefit consumers, we find the FCC asking and answering the same questions over and over again, often in cable’s case involving the provisions found in one statute passed in 1992,” McSlarrow said.

The central dispute in communications was between those who say competitive markets exist and those who see monopoly power in constant need of government intervention through such remedies as the unbundling of services from facilities that deliver them.

“What do I mean by unbundling? The forced sale, resale, lease, or use of networks or devices attached to those networks. Those who advocate a la carte, must-carry regimes, so-called open or forced network access, or net neutrality fall in the unbundling camp,” McSlarrow said.