Skip to main content

Bush Names Martin FCC Chairman

President Bush named Kevin Martin chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, replacing Michael Powell, who is leaving at the end of the week after four years on the job.

Martin, 38, has been a Republican member of the FCC since 2001. He had been an aide to FCC member Harold Furchtgott-Roth before joining the Bush 2000 presidential campaign.

In turning to Martin, Bush can install a new chairman without Senate confirmation. Bush still needs to fill a Republican seat. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said Wednesday that he wants his former aide, Earl Comstock, to occupy the third Republican seat.

The FCC has five members. Bush can nominate up to three Republicans to the agency.

Martin and Powell clashed openly on some key issues. In February 2003, Martin refused to back Powell’s plan to overhaul phone-competition rules. Martin sided with FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to scuttle Powell’s proposals and embarrass the chairman, who needed Martin’s vote to prevail.

A few years ago, he took strong exception to an FCC decision that allowed direct-broadcast satellite providers to provide local TV stations on more than one dish. Last year, Congress passed a law imposing a one-dish rule.

Last month, Martin, in a losing cause, voted to require cable systems to carry multiple programming services provided by digital-TV stations.

Martin has also called on the cable and satellite industries to offer consumers “family-friendly” programming tiers. In January 2003, he said parents should be able to buy a tier appropriate for children and buy other channels individually. He said parents were either unaware of blocking technology or didn’t know how to use it.

Martin has backed cable on at least one issue. In late 2002, he opposed requiring cable companies to contribute modem revenue to the universal-service program, which subsidizes phone service in rural and high-cost areas. He said he didn’t want to impose an Internet tax.

In a 2002 dissent, Martin refused go along with forcing TV-set makers to include over-the-air digital turners in nearly all new TV sets by July 2007.

Martin argued that the mandate would impose costs on all TV-set buyers, even though the vast majority would use the units to watch cable and DBS, not free, over-the-air broadcasting.

The better result, he said, would have been for the FCC to mandate that digital-TV sets include digital tuners and also be digital-cable-ready, noting that cable-ready digital-TV sets would save consumers on set-top-box-rental fees

Martin said in a prepared statement that he was “deeply honored,” and he thanked President Bush.

“I look forward to working with the administration, Congress, my colleagues and the FCC’s talented staff to ensure that American consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of the best communications system in the world,” he added. “I thank chairman Powell for his excellent stewardship of this agency, and I look forward to continuing his efforts in bringing the communications industry into the 21st century.”

Powell said of Martin in a prepared statement: “He will soon take a front seat at the technology revolution. His wide knowledge of telecommunications-policy issues and insight into the rapidly changing nature of communications technology will serve the agency well. Ultimately, everything the FCC does must serve the public interest and benefit consumers, and I am confident that he will be vigilant in pursuing these goals.”

New National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow also issued a statement congratulating Martin and thanking Powell for “his service to our nation.”

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with chairman Martin to maintain a deregulatory environment for competitive telecommunications services,” McSlarrow said.

And American Cable Association CEO Matt Polka issued a statement, as well.

“We appreciate that commissioner Martin has taken significant time to know and understand the issues important to independent cable operators, and we look forward to continuing this discussion with him,” Polka said.

“Commissioner Martin is well-qualified and able to lead the FCC into the next exciting and expanding chapters of telecommunications development and deployment,” he added. “We sincerely congratulate chairman Martin and his staff in their new role and wish them every success in the days ahead.”