Kevin Martin Slammed In House Report

Related:FCC Investigation Continues

“Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin.” That is the name of the just-released report from the House Energy & Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

The sooner Chairman Martin leaves the FCC, said subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI), the better.

The report concluded, among other things, that the outcome of an la carte cable report--reversing findings of a previous report--was predetermined and dictated by the chairman, and that the chairman manipulated findings in a video competition report--yet to be released--that would have triggered re-regulation of cable and delayed its release..

An FCC official close to the chairman responded that the chairman "did not agree with the previous a la carte "from day one," saying the different findings of the second report did not come "out of the blue." As to the video competition report delay, the officicial said that the commission was waiting for Office of Management & Budget approval of a new data-collection form after the FCC decided to collect new data for the report.

The cable industry has argued that Martin has it in for the industry, while the chairman has countered he is seeking regulatory parity, more consumer choice, and lower cable bills.

“Any of these findings, individually, are cause for concern,” said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI). “Together, the findings suggest that, in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and Commission business has suffered as a result. It is my hope that the new FCC Chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the Commission avoid making the same mistakes.”

It also concluded that staff have not been "efficiently managed," citing frequent micromanagement.

“We are reviewing the report," said a spokesman for the chairman. "It appears that the Committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a year-long investigation. Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC Chairmen, both Democratic and Republican alike.”

“We went to extraordinary lengths to cooperate with the investigation. In total, more than 600 Commission employees spent 11,620 hours complying with the Committee’s request for information. The Commission provided committee staff with more than 9,000 emails and approximately 75 boxes containing nearly 170,000 pages of documents, and after producing this information, the Committee did not find that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures,” he said.

As to the numerous criticisms, spokeswoman Edie Herman said: "We're aware of those charges and we disagree with them."

Stupak disagreed with the FCC's characterization that it had violated no laws or rules. In a press conference, he said he thought the FCC under Martin had violated the Communications Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and Freedom of Information Act laws, though he said he did not know of any criminal statutes it had violated, adding the word "yet."

The report did give Martin credit for taking "some small steps" to address the problems, including regular press conferences and publicizing hearing agendas in a timely fashion, and that "Commission staff is now engaged in certain matters where it was largely ignored in the past."

But the committee also said that other allegations have not been "adequately investigated" because the FCC has not produced requested records, suggesting the book may not yet be closed on the inquiry.

The committee did not recommend a hearing, but apparently not because it did not feel one was warranted, but instead because of "the climate of fear that currently pervades the FCC."

The committee said that Martin and other staffers "ignored its invitation" to meet with the committee to discuss the report.

In a second response to the report, the Chairman's office shot back:

“After a year of investigation, the Committee’s primary criticism of the Chairman is that he spent too much money to ensure that deaf Americans have equal access to communications services. The Commission provided the Committee with hundreds of emails from deaf and disabled Americans who wrote that they were “appalled to learn that the FCC staff [was] intent on drastically cutting the Video Relay Service (VRS) rate and effectively cutting VRS availability for the deaf.” Disability rights groups were also opposed to proposals to cut funding for the VRS program.

"The other major criticism of Chairman Martin is that he believes cable rates are too high and that he has sought to enhance choice and competition in the market for video services. With cable rates having doubled over the last decade, he will continue advocate on behalf of the millions of cable subscribers.

"The Chairman makes no apologies for his commitment to serving deaf and disabled Americans and for fighting to lower exorbitantly high cable rates that consumers are forced to pay.”

The reference to deaf Americans was a response to the report's finding that the FCC had ignored warnings of overpayments for telecommunications relay service to the tune of over $100 million a year, which Stupak called  "fleecing" America.

Martin got a shout-out from the Parents Television Council, his ally in the indecency crackdown and push for cable a la carte.

"We applaud the FCC under the leadership of Kevin Martin in its efforts to break up the cable cartel that forces every consumer to pay for cable programming they do not want, do not watch, and may find harmful or offensive,” said PTC President Tim Winter," said PTC President Tim Winter.

The investigations subcommittee launched the formal investigation last January after complaints externally and internally about how items were brought to a vote, information that was leaking to some lobbyists and not to others, and complaints about Martin's resolve to vote on modifying the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership -- which passed Dec. 18 -- despite attempts to stop or delay the vote by members of FCC oversight committees in both Houses.

Martin defended the rule change at the time, pointing out that it was less regulatory than the FCC’s 200 rule rewrite and was accompanied by diversity and localism initiatives in response to the FCC’s rule-review process.

The report concluded that the Inspector General (IG), appointed by Chairman Martin, was not sufficiently independent and had close relationships with the chairman's staff that impeded his ability to conduct impartial investigations.

As a result, it recommended that the IG be removed and the authority to name the IG of the FCC and other independent agences be transferred to the president.

The report recommended that allegations that the head of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, also appointed by Martin, had violated government travel regulations, be further investigated, but given its opinion of the FCC IG, asked that the investigation be referred to an IG from another agency.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.