Washington – If Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin was looking to provoke another feud with the cable industry, he succeeded.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow released a scathing letter last Friday that accused Martin of providing “deceptive and false” statements regarding cable rates in Feb. 13 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunication and the Internet.
“Your subcommittee deserves, and should expect, the leader of any expert agency to provide you with accurate and complete information,” McSlarrow said at the top of a two-and-a-half page letter to subcommittee chairman Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and the panel’s top Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (Fl.).
McSlarrow’s letter – designed to shred the truth, logic and fairness of Martin’s claims – went about as far as anyone can in polite Washington D.C. society without using the word "liar."
Martin spokeswoman Mary Diamond defended Martin’s claim that cable rates about doubled between 1995 to 2005. In his testimony, Martin suggested that cable rate trends justified his regulatory barrage on the industry.
“No one except the cable industry believes that consumers are paying less for cable today than they used to,” said Diamond, who referred to surveys that consumers believe they pay too much for cable and don’t want to pay for channels they don’t watch.
Martin’s assertions about cable rates relied solely on nominal figures. In other words, he ignored inflation, the number of channels added to the most popular programming tiers, and quality improvements in cable programming as measured by ratings and by how much time people spend watching cable and how much they pay per-hour to do so.
For years, per-channel rates have been declining while nominal tier rates have been rising.
“The important issue is the overall value proposition for consumers,” McSlarrow said in the letter.
Under Martin, the FCC stopped issuing per-channel cable trends.
“After it became clear that this measurement showed a decline in the real `price-per-channel,’ chairman Martin ordered the [FCC’s] Media Bureau to suppress this information from the public and Congress,” McSlarrow charged.
Abandonment of per-channel calculations was necessary because consumers purchase cable programming bundled in tiers that include dozens of channels, the FCC’s Diamond said.
“The price per-channel is an irrelevant measurement because consumers aren’t allowed to watch channels individually,’ Diamond said.
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