Washington – Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is upset with Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, accusing the media’s top regulator of hiding data from his FCC colleagues in an effort to advance his goal of applying more regulation to cable operators.
“The public interest cannot be served by manipulating or hiding data to serve an agenda, no matter what its merits may be,” McCaskill said in a letter Wednesday to Martin.
On Tuesday, FCC Republican Robert McDowell and FCC Democrat Jonathan Adelstein claimed that Martin withheld FCC survey information on cable because it contradicted Martin’s claim that cable operators had grown too large.
In response, Martin said he didn’t suppress the data. Instead, he said his colleagues failed to request to see the data, which, Martin added, was omitted from an FCC report because he did not consider the information reliable.
Nevertheless, McDowell and Adelstein did not get access to the data until 7 p.m. Monday, about 14 hours before Martin wanted them to find that the FCC now had expansive new authority over cable operators because cable penetration had exceeded 70% of households for the first time since 1984.
“Based on media reports and statements from your fellow commissioners, it appears you sought to circumvent normal procedures, manipulate or “cherry pick” data, and withhold information from commissioners in an effort to further your own policy agenda,” McCaskill wrote.
If the FCC found that the 70% limit had been reached, the agency under a 1984 law could “promulgate any additional rules necessary to provide diversity of information sources.” The cable industry feared that Martin would, among other things, use this language to force the a la carte sale of cable programming.
Facing a revolt by McDowell, Adelstein and FCC Republican Deborah Taylor Tate over the reliability of Martin’s data in support of the 70% finding, Martin had to back down and agree to a new plan, which involved giving cable operators 60 days to produce subscriber data to determine the industry’s household penetration nationally.
“Your fellow commissioners demonstrated a respect for process and transparency in yesterday’s vote,” McCaskill said in the letter. “As the [FCC] collects information from cable providers about current cable subscribership rates and makes a final determination on the status of competition in coming months, I urge you to demonstrate the same respect for transparency and process.”