Martin Wants FCC to Review Cable Ownership

Jan 17, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin is suggesting his agency needs to finish its long delayed review of cable ownership limits or add cable ownership questions to the ongoing examination of other media ownership rules.

Speaking to reporters after an FCC meeting Wednesday, Mr. Martin did not take a strong position on either choice, but made clear that he believes the FCC needs to do something to address the cable ownership rules examination that has been on hold since 2002.

In 1992 a Cable Act enacted by Congress directed the FCC to establish limits on the number of subscribers a cable operator may serve and the number of channels an operator can devote to programming of an affiliated company. The FCC subsequently moved to block cable operators from having more than a 30 percent share of nationwide cable and satellite viewers and to require operators of systems to devote up to 40 percent of their channel space to non-affiliated programming. Systems with more than 75 channels had to devote 45 percent to non-affiliated programming.

The old AT&T and Time Warner challenged the rule and won a 2001 appellate court decision directing the FCC to reconsider it. A three-judge panel said the FCC hadn’t provided sufficient justification for how the rule treated cable versus satellite and also hadn’t adequately explained loopholes that exempted some kinds of partnerships from the non-affiliated programming limits.

The FCC, acting at the court’s direction, launched a new look at the cable rules in 2002 and later sought new comments but never acted.

The issue of the cable cap has become more pressing in the past year. Its purchase of Adelphia Communications gives Comcast nearly 30 percent of the nation’s cable subscribers. The cap could prevent Comcast from growing.

Andy Schwartzman, executive director of the Media Access Project, a public-interest law firm specializing in FCC issues, said today that the FCC should immediately move forward on the cable rule.

“They have been waiting on this for five years. They should finish it off,” he said. “I don’t see any need for a delay.”

(Editor: Gilbert)