Exiting Powell Offered Cable Proposal

The cable industry and consumers would be asked to "refresh" the Federal Communications Commission's record on the impact of cable consolidation under a cable-ownership proposal former FCC chairman Michael Powell delivered to fellow commissioners shortly before he resigned last month.

Existence of the proposal was revealed by a staffer for new Chairman Kevin Martin during a panel discussion at the cable industry's National Show in San Francisco earlier this week.

The staffer, media adviser Catherine Bohigian, gave no details of Powell's plan. But an agency source said that Powell did not suggest a specific limit on one company's permissible share of pay-TV subs.

The commissioners' aides are only beginning to review the proposal and the source said there's no consensus yet on whether to reject Powell's idea or seek the public comment.

The previous cable cap, which limited one company's share of pay-TV subs to 30%, was struck down by  federal judges in 2001. Since that decision, there has been effectively no limit on the size a cable company could reach.

Powell floated the idea of setting a 45% cap in December 2002, but backed off the idea to focus on rewriting broadcast ownership limits. The resulting rules were struck down by federal judges, too, and the status of those rules is in limbo.

As he was walking out the door, Powell suggested to his soon-to-be-former colleagues that more public comment was necessary before the FCC could recommend a specific limit on the amount of cable consolidation that should be permitted.