US Cable Firms Win Reprieve from Media Watchdog Control

29 November 2007

WASHINGTON DC: US cable firms are celebrating the retreat of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J Martin from his attempt to extend the body's jurisdiction to cover cable operators for the first time.

White House appointee Martin failed to get his proposals for tighter regulation of the industry past his four fellow-commissioners, who argued that not enough data had been collected to enable them to make informed decisions.

Amid frenzied lobbying by the industry and Republican politicians, the commissioners refused to uphold Martin's contention that cable TV is now available to more than seventy percent of the nation's viewers and that more than 70% of those that can buy cable actually do so.

These threshold numbers, had they been agreed, would trigger a 23-year-old law to award the FCC new powers over the cable industry.

Instead, under a compromise deal hammered out between commission members, the companies will now be forced to reveal new information designed to allow the panel to decide whether the 70/70 threshold has been met.

The move has been warmly welcomed by trade body, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Commented NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow: "We applaud the leadership of each commissioner who questioned and withstood the attempt to use incomplete data in order to justify greater regulation that is completely unwarranted by the competitive marketplace."

The cable battle does not bode well for Martin's other current project, the relaxation of cross-media ownership rules, which he had been hoping to push through before the year end.

His proposals have drawn fire from both sides of the political divide, and two meetings next month between lawmakers and the FCC are likely to be sparky.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff