Top House Republican Pans Martin’s Agenda

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Washington – House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh.) is urging Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to back away from his quest to slap the cable industry with “expansive new regulations,” especially at a time when “our nation is experiencing more and greater choices in the video programming market place a result of responsible deregulatory policies.”

Boehner, who expressed his concerns in a Nov. 19 letter to Martin, said that he had also asked Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the most senior GOP member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, “to keep me apprised of your agenda and the manner in which you treat all industries before the commission.”

Boehner appeared to be referring to the cable industry’s complaint that the Martin-led FCC has routinely treated the industry in an unfair manner. Martin, a Republican appointee of President Bush, once retorted that nearly every industry complains about fairness when it is on the losing end of a policy dispute at the FCC.

At the FCC’s public meeting Tuesday, Martin wants his five-member agency to:

* Force cable operators to charge no more than 10 cents per month, per subscriber to leased access programmers, a 75% reduction from current FCC-set rates.

* Potentially force Comcast and Time Warner, as a result of compulsory arbitration, to carry the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network and pay the networks handsome license fees.

* Find that cable penetration exceeds 70% of households, triggering a legal provision enacted in 1984 that gives the FCC potentially massive new regulatory powers over cable operators and cable programmers.

* Launch a notice en route to rules that would allow minority, religious and small business entities to lease spectrum from digital TV stations and demand carriage from local cable operators.

Martin has justified these actions as necessary to promote pay-TV competition and provide consumers with more choice and diversity in programming. Martin has said he wants the agency to adopt new cable ownership rules, which would block Comcast from making a large acquisition.

“Press reports indicate that you may even be considering imposing horizontal ownership caps on the cable industry,” Boehner said. “With more competition now than ever before, now is not the time to embark on regulatory proposals that run contrary to Congress’s intent on these deregulatory policies.”

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow has accused Martin of singling out cable for regulatory punishment because the industry won’t yield to Martin’s demand that cable systems allow consumers to buy all their cable networks on an a la carte basis.

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