Another Hill roadblock for Martin


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin already has pending legislation in the Senate which would slow down his plans to ease restrictions on cross-ownership of print and broadcast media properties in a single market. Now Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has rounded up a small posse in the House to prevent Martin from adding to the regulatory burden of the cable industry.

At issue is a provision of earlier legislation which allowed the FCC to reconsider cable regulation when the service achieves both 70% coverage of the US, and 70% penetration into the territory it covers. Citing data from Warren Publications, Martin declared recently that this threshold has been achieved, opening the possibility of adding things like a la carte channel menu options and other new rules. However, the numbers are in dispute, and even Warren noted that they are based on an annual directory survey, which do not typically receive full response from the industry surveyed. Some observers have claimed the 70% penetration number is impossible given the number of subscribers to satellite added with those who get no MVPD service of any type.

Townsend’s bill would repeal the 70/70 rule and prevent the FCC from reregulating even if the threshold has been achieved. American Cable Association President/CEO Matt Polka applauded the move, saying, "It serves no good to impose more rules and regulations on independent cable companies that are fiercely competing with two satellite TV operators, and provide advanced video, broadband and phone services to customers living in smaller markets and rural America."

A small bipartisan list of co-sponsors includes Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX), Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).