Martin: Cable Model Worth Emulating

Deregulation of expanded-basic-cable rates, combined with allowing cable systems to invest in advanced services free from regulatory constraints, is a regulatory model that has served the needs of government, cable operators and consumers, Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin said Thursday.

Martin declared that Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act to ensure that if cable invested in new services, state and local regulators would not be allowed to interfere.

“The cable experience shows that this type of approach encourages investment in new technologies, and this will benefit consumers with lower prices and innovative products,” Martin said. “And it can lead to further deregulation as new products provide competition where there was previously none.”

Martin’s comments came in remarks to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization with close ties to the Bush administration.

Martin noted that the 1992 Cable Act imposed comprehensive pricing and behavioral controls on the cable industry. But sensing that satellite services were ramping up and that cable intended to upgrade systems to meet that competition and plunge into the voice and data markets, Congress decided to strip away cable regulations.

“As a result, let’s look at where cable is today,” he added. “Cable operators are the dominant providers of broadband services.”

Martin emphasized that the most important step was the decision not to allow local regulators to reach beyond a certain sphere.

“I think we learn some important lessons from the cable experience,” he said. “While we can allow states and local authorities to retain their traditional role as regulators of some basic services, at the same time, we need to make sure that new technologies and advanced services are substantially free of state and local regulation.”