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Sununu Unsure of Martin's Smooth Renomination

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) says it is too early to tell whether FCC Chairman Kevin Martin will have an easy confirmation process or whether there will be "some roadblocks put up to try to encourage the FCC to be perhaps a little more responsive to issues." He also says he thinks the Senate video franchise reform bill will not pass this session, and isn't particularly excited about the transition to DTV.

In an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series, scheduled to air this weekend, Sununu, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee who had some tough questions for Martin at his nomination hearing in the committee this week, said he was concerned about the FCC's "commitment to the deregulatory process."

Sununu said he didn't think the FCC should be imposing price controls on cable, "as the chairman has," and should be more aggressive in reforming the Universal Service Fund, (USF) which collects money from phone companies and dispenses it to subsidize that service in rural and poorer areas, as well as for wiring schools and libraries.

Sununu says that he thinks Martin has not been as successful at communicating a vision for the marketplace as his predecessor Powell.

Sununu curiously suggested that the House and Senate communications are largely the same. When asked whether the issues in the Senate bill pair up with those in the House, he said "largely, yes. The House dealt with most of the same items."

How similar the bills are is an important issue when it comes to reconciling the two bills in Congress, though that will be a moot point if Sununu is right about the bill's failure to get a Senate vote.

But his "largely the same" characterization is at odds with the fact that the House bill was purposely narrowed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton to essentially only video franchise reform as a move to make sure it passed the House, which it did. The Senate bill, by contrast, while encompassing the basics of the franchising portion of the Barton bill,deals with many more issues, from the broadcast flag to the USF (Sununu conceded that was a major difference), to the digital transition.

Sununu suggested to the C-SPAN audience that DTV transition might be overhyped.

Asked where the transition to digital TV stood, Sununu said that while "it will be nice to have the spectrum come back to the government so we can auction it off for new services,"he was more hyped on the new services the spectrum could be reclaimed for, saying the transition will be "less dramatic" and "much less exciting than other things that are happening in the broadband and Internet space to create new video services, new telecommunications services and new entertainment products."

Sununu said he didn't think the communications reform bill will pass, saying there just isn't enough time left and citing the threatened filibuster over net neutrality. "I think we'll just come back next year and start fresh, take a look at the lay of the land, and craft a new piece of legislation."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.