Martin Preparing Must-Carry Push

May 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Cable TV operators would be required to carry all of the programming streams from digital broadcast TV channels under a new proposal that is being circulated at the agency by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, FCC and industry officials said Tuesday.

In addition, Mr. Martin has told his fellow commissioners that he plans to launch a separate proceeding soon to determine whether to further relax agency media ownership rules, the sources said.

Mr. Martin’s proposals come as particularly welcome news to broadcasters, who have been lobbying vigorously for media ownership deregulation and for rules to insure that all of their digital programming streams are available to cable subscribers. The cable TV industry is strongly opposed to Mr. Martin’s proposed carriage obligation.

The proposals also signal that Mr. Martin, who has been stymied on key issues by an agency that has been deadlocked politically with two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, plans to move more aggressively now that a third Republican commissioner is coming on board.

Last year the FCC, under then-Chairman Michael Powell, rejected a proposal that would have forced cable providers to carry the multiple broadcast programming streams. But Mr. Martin, who cast the sole dissenting vote at the time, told reporters earlier this year that he would try to overturn the Powell-era decision if he thought he could win the support of a majority of the agency’s commissioners.

Two of the commissioners who voted against the rule during Powell’s chairmanship-Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein-are still at the agency.

Since the 2005 vote, one new commissioner, Republican Deborah Taylor Tate, has joined the agency. Robert McDowell, another Republican, received Senate confirmation for a third Republican seat late last week and is expected to officially join the agency as soon as this week. The new lineup offers Mr. Martin the possibility of a 3-2 majority.

With a Republican FCC majority coming into line, Mr. Martin is also planning to launch proceedings as soon as next month to determine how the agency should respond to a 2004 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that threw out a Powell-era effort by the FCC’s Republicans to loosen rules that bar owners of daily newspapers from buying broadcast stations in their markets and limit how many stations a company can own in an area.

Mr. Martin tried to get the ball rolling against the media ownership restrictions last year but dropped the effort because he couldn’t reach a consensus at the agency-deadlocked politically with two Republicans and two Democrats-on how to proceed.