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McDowell: FCC Chairman Martin On A `Radical’ Cable Course

Washington – Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell made clear in a speech Monday that he is troubled that FCC chairman Kevin Martin is seeking to impose more rules and regulations on the cable industry while at the same time claiming that broad media market trends justify consolidation between the newspaper and broadcast TV industries.

“[Martin] is asserting that the cable industry, and the cable industry alone, is facing less competition and should be subject to more regulation. This is a radical departure for the [FCC] – a departure being made without sufficient chance for public comment,” McDowell said in a luncheon speech to the Media Institute, a media-industry funded group focused on First Amendment issues.

Martin is asking his four FCC colleagues to endorse a “finding” in the annual video competition report to Congress that the FCC can massively re-regulate cable because the so-called 70/70 test has been met, which in general terms means that 70% of households subscribe to a cable system with at least 36 channels.

McDowell said he would not now support Martin’s finding because of the controversy surrounding the credibility of Martin’s data. Martin’s one source is data culled from the Television and Cable Factbook, published annually by Warren Communications News. Warren’s top official insisted last week the data could not be used to verify Martin’s 70/70 test finding because not all cable operators submitted their subscriber and homes-passed totals.

“The shift in the paradigm, the shift in the evidentiary standard and methodology I think is something that deserves and really screams out for public comment and we haven’t had that,” McDowell said. “For years, we have been relying on a certain methodology and the plucking of one study to support a maybe pre-determined outcome I think deserves more public comment.”

McDowell said that the FCC last year put cable penetration at 60%, but this year would put it at more than 70% if Martin had his way, even though during the past 12 months top cable MSOs lost 200,000 video customers while satellite gained 1.8 million.

McDowell said Martin’s desire to ease broadcast ownership rules and hammer cable at the same time raised an assortment of questions and issues that needed to be addressed.

“Why is the FCC suddenly changing its evidentiary standard and methodology just for [cable]? How will this abrupt and radical departure affect other analyses and proceedings?” he said. “I am searching for credible answers to these and many other questions—thus far to no avail.”

Both Martin and McDowell are Republican appointees of President Bush. Martin has proposed allowing some new newspaper-TV stations combinations to happen in the top-20 markets for the first time since 1975. For cable, Martin has a lineup of punitive undertakings that is so vast a prominent Wall Street analyst described it as a war.

FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond said Martin, on FCC business trip in his native North Carolina, was not commenting on McDowell’s remarks. FCC Democrat Jonathan Adelstein, who attended McDowell’s speech, dashed from the scene after brushing off a reporter.