Martin bows out


Chairman Kevin Martin brought actual news to the unusually less-than-newsworthy FCC January Open Meeting, announcing that Barack Obama’s first day on the job will be his last. Martin had been hinting that he may stay on as a rank-and-file commissioner after stepping down from the chair, but instead will be taking a position as Senior Fellow across town in Washington at think tank Aspen Institute.

The move will make a lone party-line ranger out of Commissioner Robert McDowell. Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein are both still aboard, and the new Chairman is going to be another Democrat, Julius Genachowski. The seating of the fifth total and second Republican commissioner would figure to be in line after Genachowski.

Martin decribed his philosophy, which he said “has been to pursue deregulation while paying close attention to its impact on consumers and the particulars of a given market, to balance deregulation with consumer protection.”  He added that he “approached his decisions with a fundamental belief that a robust, competitive marketplace, not regulation, is ultimately the best protector of the public interest and the best method of delivering the benefits of choice, innovation, and affordability to American consumers.”

In his letter of resignation to President Bush, Martin wrote, “I have had the privilege of serving at the Federal Communications Commission for almost 8 years, including 4 years as the agency’s Chairman.  During this period, we have seen a telecommunications industry undergoing rapid and unprecedented change. As a result of the market-oriented and consumer focused policies we have pursued the American people are now reaping the rewards of convergence and the broadband revolution including new and more innovative technologies and services at ever-declining prices.”

Martin made special mention of Mike Copps, who entered the FCC 8th Floor almost simultaneously. Copps noted that a paperwork error gave him seniority over Martin by an eyelash or two back when they entered in 2001, which Martin trumped by ascending to the chairmanship. They both took pride in finding common ground in between some serious and continued disagreement over various issues.

NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr said, "The FCC chairman’s job is one of the most difficult in Washington. On behalf of the broadcast industry, I want to express our thanks to Kevin Martin for his public service. NAB respects Kevin Martin’s intellect and his belief in the lifeline role played by local broadcasters. We wish him well."

RBR/TVBR observation: Martin seemingly managed to please AND disappoint just about everybody at one time or another. He’ll be remembered for being on hand for most of the DTV transition, but we’ll remember his support for the Michael Powell ownership deregulation platform; and his bogged-down small-bite attempt to loosen cross-ownership rules a bit.

His support of efforts to increase ownership diversity have met with widespread approval among minority and mainstream broadcasters alike; and his support for new localism requirements united minority and mainstream broadcasters in opposition.

Martin has favored an aggressive approach to indecency enforcement, but has been stymied during the last two years as FCC enforcement efforts have been challenged in the courts. The FCC chose to draw a line over the issue of fleeting obscenities, lost its case v. Fox at the appellate level, and its appeal of that case is now pending at the Supreme Court.

One sector will no doubt be unambiguously happy to see Martin go, however, and that would be the cable industry. Martin has tried to force a la carte programming options onto cable’s rates cards, independent programmers onto its channel lineups, and has done all he can to clear a path for new competition from telcos.