FCC’s Martin Forced to Back Down from Regulatory Ambitions


When the I hit the video link on the FCC’s website yesterday at 11:00 am, I was faced with a familiar site: a bunch of suits milling around and not doing much of anything. Instead of leaving the scene on for hours as I did back in September, I shut off the link and tried again about an hour later. This time, no connection at all.

It turns out that the FCC’s scheduled meeting to discuss possible new cable regulations was delayed until after 9:00 pm. Chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing hard to impose new regulatory restrictions on the industry based on his assessment that cable has reached a threshold where its services are available to 70% of the population, and at least 70% of those folks count themselves as subscribers. Unfortunately for Martin, his math has been widely discredited (examples here and here), and he ran up against a brick wall yesterday when he tried to push his point.

Whether or not you believe the FCC should regulate the cable industry more closely, Martin’s timing and the evidence he presented for his argument were ludicrous. Just ask Wall Street, which punished cablecos in the last round of quarterly earnings for continued loss of basic cable subscribers. Cable is actually facing competition now from the likes of Verizon and AT&T, not to mention satellite providers. Martin probably would have had a better shot a year or two ago, faulty math or no, but growing telco success in the TV market completely undermines his position.

Multichannel News reports in more detail on yesterday’s delayed events.

Two more tangential points:

  1. The New York Times published an editorial yesterday (login required) supporting Martin’s position with only a cursory reference to the fact that many industry experts believe Martin’s numbers to be wrong. I’m generally a fan of the Times editorial page, but this piece had me rolling my eyes at its lack of contextual information. [UPDATE: The NY Times has a new article up on yesterday’s FCC meeting.  Still no mention of how well-disputed Martin’s 70/70 numbers are.]

  2. TV services are one thing, high-speed Internet is another. AT&T actually has the most Internet subscribers of any provider, including Comcast. Check out Leightman’s latest numbers. They certainly surprised me. (Thanks, Glenn)

7 thoughts on “FCC’s Martin Forced to Back Down from Regulatory Ambitions”

  1. Dave what is your voyeuristic obsession with watching a bunch of bureaucrats wasting taxing payer dollars?

    I ask only to know if there is some tangible appeal for me to watch as well. Is it like a geek soap opera?

    Also, if you ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000, I think you should re-purpose the FCC video, with you sitting in front of the screen in shadow and make snotty comments on what they are doing – I would TOTALLY watch that!

  2. Todd, I surely don’t have the patience. Which is why I wait to read Mari’s Cliff Notes. Though this was a bigger (non)event than usual… My Denver hotel had the USA Today and NY Times – and both prominently featured the story.

    I really dig the MST3k idea… Though it might be considered a career-limiting move (CLM) and probably best avoided whilst we have day jobs.

  3. Mari,

    I would not be so tense about whether the numbers are just so, but concentrate on what Martin wants to do and how it relates to what is happening, which frankly I have not done at all myself.

  4. An analysis I heard on NPR yesterday suggests that Martin is looking to push al-a-carte channel line ups. This is motivated by his concerns over the content that is available via cable and the desire to give parents more control over the television that their children watch.

    This approach is flawed for many reasons including that the technology exists for doing this on the set-top-boxes via parental controls and that this has serious business consequences in terms of cost of channels and billing to the cable companies.

    Mari you also make a good point in that the cable companies have enough competition now or coming that regulatory intervention at this stage would undermine their ability to compete.

  5. On that note here is Commissioner Adelstein at Tuesday’s hearing lambasting Martin and the Commission for “cooking the books.” It’s great.

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