Martin’s Agenda: From Broadband to DTV

San Francisco -- New Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin considers broadband policy a top priority, but his agenda in this area will likely be shaped by the Supreme Court decision in the National Cable & Telecommunications Association vs. Brand X Internet Services case, a Martin aide said at the National Show here Tuesday.

“Broadband will continue to be a very important priority for him,” Martin media adviser Catherine Bohigian said. “Part of it will, of course, be reactive, depending on what the Supreme Court does with Brand X. That will be a large part of the broadband issue.”

Martin, 38, became FCC chairman March 18, having served as a Republican member of the agency since July 2001 who generally supported free-market policies over regulation where market failure had not been demonstrated.

In the Brand X case, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in a few months whether the FCC properly classified cable-modem service as an unregulated information service. If the court disagrees so that cable-modem service is a regulated telecommunications service, the Martin FCC has to decide whether to strip away common-carrier regulations from cable and perhaps even from its broadband-access competitors.

The agency has until May 5 to act on a petition by SBC Communications Inc. asking it to forbear from applying common-carrier rules to its “IP [Internet-protocol] platform services,” including the right to exclude competing Internet-service providers.

If the commission fails to deny the petition -- a clear possibility, because the FCC is split 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats -- the SBC petition is automatically deemed granted.

Another Martin priority is media ownership, but Bohigian said the FCC action was linked to whether the Supreme Court agrees to review a lower-court decision that largely struck down the commission's June 2003 rules that liberalized ownership policies.

Martin also plans to address policies related to voice-over-IP service and IP-enabled services generally, she said.

The last issue she mentioned was TV stations’ transition to digital television. Before he resigned last month, FCC chairman Michael Powell was backing a plan to end the digital-TV transition Dec. 31, 2008. Congress is actively considering legislation on the same subject.

“Those are four [issues] I think he will focus on in the near- and medium-term,” Bohigian said.