Former House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he doesn't think anybody on the committee is interested in reregulating cable, and that while he respects Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's intellect, he called him "somewhat inconsistent in applying conservative principles to the FCC."
His evidence of the latter, he said, is Martin's desire to relax newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership while at the same time "apparently" wanting to reregulate cable.
Barton's comments came in an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators series scheduled for broadcast this weekend.
Barton also said he has concerns about the transparency of the FCC's processes -- a concern shared by many Hill Democrats. "Most agencies like the FCC put out their agenda, put out draft orders, let there be comments and then schedule a vote and you have a process that is more transparent. Chairman Martin seems to hold the cards pretty close to his vest until he thinks he has the votes and then has one of these 'slam-bang' markups, so to speak. I think he would be better-served if he operated in a more open and transparent fashion."
He said he thinks there is robust cable competition -- specifically citing NFL Network -- and that the industry is not in need of reregulation.
He would not go so far as to say that Martin is anti-cable, saying instead that he "apparently has an agenda that is not as deregulatory as I would hope that a Republican chairman of the FCC would be with regard to the cable industry." Barton said he sometimes appears to be searching for a problem that isn't there, adding that there are more channels and pricing options than ever and that the industry is acting responsibly to some of Congress' concerns about content issues, citing family tiers some operators have created.
He added, "Are there things the FCC should be involved with in the cable industry? Sure there are. Are there problems that are so big that they need to be reregulated? I don't think so."
Barton said it was time to move on to other things.
He added that he thought that the so-called 70/70 test of cable market power is outdated due to increased satellite competition and the Internet, as well as broadcast competition. He signed onto a bill that would scrap the 70/70 test. He called the bill a "pre-emptive measure" to keep "our friends at the FCC from getting too aggressive on reregulation."
Asked whether he and Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) see eye-to-eye on many of the media issues, he said most of the time, arguing that it would pass its own 70/70 rule, meaning that on 70% of the issues, they agree 70% of the time. "I don't think anybody on the committee seriously wants to reregulate cable," he added.
Barton said, "to be honest," he thinks Martin would like to treat the cable industry differently than other industries, but overall, he does not think the FCC treats cable differently. He said the industry is "probably a little more closely scrutinized," but added, " I don't think overall they have been unfairly treated."
Barton said he supports Dingell's investigation into the FCC's processes as part of the proper watchdog function of the committee over regulatory agencies.
Barton recently replaced Fred Upton (R-Mich.) as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee. He told C-SPAN Upton asked for a new post as ranking member on the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee.
He added that the move had nothing to do with the fact that a letter he had sent to Martin regarding cable regulation was signed by 23 of the 26 Republicans but did not include Upton's signature.
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