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Martin Tells FCC to Get the Lead Out

Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin had a lot to get off his chest at a National Association of Broadcasters-sponsored fly-in Tuesday.
Martin told broadcasters he will push for FCC action on a long-languishing petition by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, which charges networks with unfair practices.

FCC chairman Michael Powell has already told Congress that he would act on the petition by the end of the year, but Martin is itching to move on what he sees as some important issues. Citing DTV and satellite carriage issues, he bemoaned the fact that the commission doesn’t have an item on either currently in front of it. "We consider things for years hoping they will go away," he said. "We need to speed the process."

Martin says acting on the NASA petition would help clarify local broadcasters’ rights to reject programming, which is central to any stepped-up indecency enforcement regime. He pointed out that the indecent material "in many instances is content provided by the networks."

Martin also pushed broadcasters for a voluntary family viewing hour and for cable to provide family friendly tiers. He drew applause when he suggested, as have many in Washington of late, that government should explore expanding indecency enforcement to cable and satellite, including satellite radio. But he acknowledged that there were thorny constitutional issues relating to regulation of subscription services.

On DTV multicast must-carry, Martin said he believed viewers had an expectation that cable should carry whatever broadcasters deliver free over the air. He agreed with NAB President Eddie Fritts that deciding the issue was crucial to the DTV transition.

Martin added that it might give some smaller market broadcasters a financial break in the absence of looser small-market duopoly rules, which he suggested were unlikely.

He suggested instead that hurting small-market stations that need to team up to avoid compromising service should seek waivers. In addition, he said, multicast must-carry rights could help those broadcasters tap into a new revenue stream and defray the transition costs they were required to absorb.