WASHINGTON, DC: Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and one of three Republican appointees controlling the body's five-strong ruling committee, on Wednesday shoehorned a key rule-change that eases the entry of major telecoms companies into local cable-TV markets.

In a 3-2 vote cast on party lines, the FCC imposed on state and local authorities a ninety-day deadline to approve video-franchising applications from new applicants. For 'new applicants', read telecoms titans like AT&T and Verizon Communications.

To outsiders, the situation seems yet another case of the love-in between Republicans and big business. An assessment with which insiders, such as state and local officials, appear to agree.

The latter fear the FCC is trying to usurp their authority; while existing cable companies claim the 'Bells' [a nickname for the regional telcos formed by the breakup of AT&T in 1984] are receiving preferential treatment.

The FCC case, however, is that it has a mandate to prevent unreasonable delays by local officials in granting video franchises.

Democrat commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who voted against the change, see its in a different light and accuses his three Republican colleagues of "legal gymnastics that would only impress an Olympic judge whose vote has been promised before the competition begins".

The cable lobby is equally hostile.

Says National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow: "Fundamentally, as a matter of good policy, we're not too keen on any proposals that treat us and the telcos differently. We have serious questions about the FCC's ability to set legislative policy."

Meantime, Democrat politicos and opposing commercial lobbyists are girding their loins in Washington and threatening legal action against the FCC unless it reverses its decision..

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