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Editorial: FCC, NCTA Must Find Way to Compromise

Apr 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Intransigence tends to impede business. The starkest recent example was the Writers Guild of America strike, in which two sides stuck to their guns for 100 days, shutting down the broadcast TV production industry. Another example is brewing in Washington, D.C., where the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is locked in conflict with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin.
We urge both sides to approach each other in a spirit of compromise and try to make progress on crucial issues that still can be resolved before the likely end of Mr. Martin’s tenure in the next year. There is still time to work toward compromise on issues including cable operator size limits and ensuring Web traffic flows unimpeded across lines owned by cable operators.
NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow last week provided a stark assessment of relations between his organization’s members and the FCC. “There’s nothing the industry does that’s going to be good enough. So we have to make our case to other people,” he said, implying that if he can’t get business done at the agency, he can pursue his membership’s goals in Congress.
A relationship that dysfunctional can’t be good for the cable industry or, by extension, its customers. We don’t think Mr. McSlarrow’s comments were ill-advised. Rather, they’re a reaction to an agency’s attempt to overreach.
At the crux of the matter: Mr. Martin has pushed for a la carte cable pricing (which TelevisionWeek has editorialized against) and the cable industry quite rightly has opposed that initiative.
Mr. McSlarrow’s opinion regarding the futility of trying to deal with the FCC is the byproduct of a history of Mr. Martin reaching too far, and the cable industry reacting with alarm. So while we don’t fault the NCTA, we’d urge the group to leave the door open a bit farther in terms of reconciling with Mr. Martin.
We reserve our real disapproval for Mr. Martin, whose stiff-necked approach to cable a la carte has made the companies he regulates understandably defensive.
The latest example of his contribution to the bad blood between the industry and the agency came last week, when Comcast signaled it was willing to compromise on how it regulates traffic on its high-speed Internet lines. Mr. Martin lauded the company, but salted his praise with some pugnacious language about the need for Comcast to go farther.
A Comcast executive responded with a volley pointing out errors in Mr. Martin’s statement.
We hope the two sides can move past posturing and negotiate toward resolution. Mr. Martin should use his position of authority to change the tone of the discussion.

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