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Senate Republicans Slam FCC Chairman Martin’s Cable Plan

Washington – Four Senate Republicans on Monday expressed “deep concern” with Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s ongoing effort to impose new regulatory burdens on cable operators.

“It is clear to us that it was Congress’s intent that the marketplace, and not regulatory fiats, should govern wherever possible. If there is to be a fundamental shift or adoption of new regulatory policies, it is up to Congress, not the [FCC], to implement it,” the GOP lawmakers said in a Nov. 26 letter to Martin, a Republican appointee of President Bush.

The letter was signed by Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Texas), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Sununu (N.H.), all members of the Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC and holds hearings on the individuals nominated by the president to run the agency.

At the FCC’s public meeting on Tuesday, Martin wants his five-member agency to:

* Force cable operators to charge no more than 10 cents per month, per subscriber to leased access programmers, a 75% reduction from current FCC-set rates.

* Potentially force Comcast and Time Warner, as a result of compulsory arbitration, to carry the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network and pay the networks handsome license fees.

* Find that cable penetration exceeds 70% of households, triggering a legal provision enacted in 1984 that gives the FCC potentially massive new regulatory powers over cable operators and, derivatively, cable programmers.

* Launch a notice en route to rules that would allow minority, religious and small business entities to lease spectrum from digital TV stations and demand carriage from local cable operators.

Martin has justified these actions as necessary to promote pay-TV competition and provide consumers with more choice and diversity in programming.

Based on press reports, the senators said they had “deep concern” that the FCC “may attempt to implement sweeping new regulations on the cable industry that would interfere with the marketplace and potentially undermine both congressional intent and authority.”