FCC’s Martin Assails Cable Before Exit

Jan 20, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin in his last hours as chairman is delivering one last attack on cable pricing.
In a letter to leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee and in an action taken by the FCC’s Media Bureau, Mr. Martin is accusing cable providers of raising rates while diminishing services and also of refusing to provide required information to the FCC.
“Cable customers have been receiving less from the cable companies, but paying the same price,” wrote Mr. Martin in the letter issued on Martin Luther King’s birthday, a government holiday. Mr. Martin, a Republican, is expected to be temporarily replaced as chairman either later today or tomorrow by one of the commission’s current Democrats, pending the confirmation of Julius Genachowski as chairman.
The letter was issued late last night and it comes in response to Consumer Union’s October, 2008 complaint to the Senate Commerce Committee expressing concerns that cable system operators were moving some programming to digital-only tiers, then charging consumers more for the boxes necessary to receive the digital cable.
Mr. Martin said that complaint, combined with some from other groups and 600 complaints from the public, prompted the FCC to issue a “letter of inquiry” to cable systems asking about the practice. Nine of 13 cable systems didn’t respond, and the Media Bureau yesterday issued “notices of apparent liability.”
The notices went to major cable system operators including Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner.
“For consumers this situation is unacceptable,” Mr. Martin said in the letter. “As chairman of an agency that is dedicated to protecting the public interest, I have been using our resources to find out whether these channel migrations were done in compliance with relevant laws.
“Unfortunately in some instance, we have been thwarted in our efforts,” he wrote. “The cable operators’ refusal to provide the commission full information has delayed our investigation and inhibited our ability to examine allegations raised in the nearly 600 consumer complaints.”
Mr. Martin also accused cable system operators of raising rates at the same time other prices for communications services are dropping.
“Cable rates are now 50% higher, even when adjusted for inflation, then when Congress stepped in to reregulate them with the passage of the 1992 Cable Act.”
Officials of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Today, Inauguration Day is a holiday for many Washington D.C. businesses.


  1. Martin is 100% correct in his assessment of the situation. Comcast is one of the prime examples of this migration. They have more shopping channels, and less and less of the kinds of channels that we as consumers are looking for in their basic and expanded basic services. Their comment to us when asked why they moved certain channels was, ” we are just trying to better serve but need to generate revenue at the same time so if you want to see the channel in question we will be happy to provide you with our newest toy and digital box – of course you will have to subscribe to digital services etc. But we are making progress and you pay for progress. I am sick of it!

  2. as an employee of a small cable company after reading these comments I am very glad Chair. Martin is on his way out. With the cost of programming going up annually and now the “must carry” networks declare retran status and expected to negotiate in good faith (right) how can he expect cable prices to drop with other communication services?

  3. My local Cox system moved Turner Classic Movies and two C-SPAN channels (channels on which they CANNOT sell advertising) to their digital tier.
    The HBO Inaugural Concert (U2, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce) was NOT available to my household — as HBO is only a digital tier offering.
    I get great value from my local NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS and Fox affiliates. But these channels do not receive the $3.65 per month that ESPN receives … not even the 45-cents the Sci-Fi channel gets each month.

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