FCC’s Adelstein Blasts Martin Over Small Cable Regs

Washington – Federal Communications Commission Democrat Jonathan Adelstein is accusing FCC chairman Kevin Martin of trying to swamp small cable operators with needless regulation while giving a pass to a colossal telecom players like Verizon.

In a statement Thursday, Adelstein noted that the FCC issued Verizon a waiver from expensive cable set-top box mandates but didn’t do the same for many mom-and-pop cable companies that lack the resources to buy consumer equipment in bulk or hire lawyers to fight Washington bureaucrats.

“We,” Adelstein began, referring to hand-picked Martin aides in the Media Bureau, “gave a waiver to a new market entrant that is bigger than the entire cable industry and has over 300,000 subscribers, while smaller cable operators are required to deploy much more expensive set-top boxes to their customers.”

A Martin spokeswoman, contacted by email, did not have an immediate response. Adelstein’s comments came in a statement attached to the FCC’s “Triennial Report to Congress, Identifying and Eliminating Market Entry

Barriers for Entrepreneurs and Other Small Businesses.”

Adelstein, revealing the contents of a Martin proposal not adopted by the agency, noted that the chairman also wanted to force small cable companies to carry some local TV stations in triplicate – once in analog and twice in digital – until an FCC majority forced him to retreat.

Adelstein also said he helped kill Martin’s proposal to ban cable MSOs from compressing the signals of digital TV stations that have mandatory carriage rights, a technology mandate that would have likely meant the over-allocation of capacity to TV stations at the expensive of higher broadband data speeds.

“We cannot achieve our goal of promoting rural broadband if the [FCC] forces small rural cable operators to use their limited capacity for uses other than what the market and their customers demand, including broadband,” Adelstein said.

Adelstein, however, didn’t win every battle with Martin to shield small cable companies.

“This [FCC], over my objection, refused to grant waivers to small cable system operators from the obligation to carry the analog and high definition digital signals of all broadcast stations that are entitled to mandatory carriage,” he said.

Instead, small cable companies need to file waiver requests one by one with the FCC.

“It is not fair to ask these tiny rural systems to engage lawyers in Washington when a simple exemption would have sufficed,” Adelstein said.

Cable regulations adopted under Martin have led to five federal law suits, including Comcast’s appeal of its set-top box waiver denial. At least four more suits are expected to be filed with a few months, including one to overturn the FCC ruling that effectively forces the duplicative carriage of DTV stations until 2012.