New FCC chairman bullish on deregulation

Kevin Martin tells cable execs that the commission wants to minimize regulation--but it also wants fewer indecency complaints.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jim Hu
covers home broadband services and the Net's portal giants.
Jim Hu
2 min read
Speaking for the first time in public, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, said he will continue favoring deregulation to foster change in the telecommunications industry.

Kevin Martin
Chairman, FCC
During an onstage interview at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's annual convention, Martin also sounded off on the hot-button issue of TV indecency. Martin is expected to put a higher priority on media indecency than his predecessor. Although Martin has not confronted this issue yet, he said the growing tide of complaints makes him take the issue seriously. He remarked on the outpouring of complaints over the past few years, and appealed to the audience to be proactive about policing themselves.

"This is an opportunity to speak not just to me but to consumers and parents," Martin told the audience during an onstage interview with Fox News anchor Stuart Varney.

Although Martin's speech lasted only a few minutes before he was whisked offstage, he spoke briefly about the role the FCC should play in shaping the nation's broadband policy. Martin said he would continue down the path set by former FCC chairman Michael Powell by creating a "level playing field" between providers in a "deregulatory, not regulatory, fashion."

He applauded the cable industry for its estimated $95 billion investment to upgrade its coaxial networks to support digital and high-definition video, high-speed Internet access and phone services. The cable industry has reaped the rewards of this upgrade, and now owns the largest market share of broadband customers in the country.

Because of that investment, Martin said the cable industry has helped increase broadband penetration into more homes.

"You all have made the progress," he told the audience.

The cable industry has a lot of reasons to thank the FCC. The commission has maintained its hands-off approach to regulating cable in hopes of spurring more private investment to improve the industry. This approach has been controversial, especially among the Baby Bell phone companies, who by law are required by the government to share their DSL lines with competitors, though many of those requirements are being dismantled.

The FCC and the Bush Administration continue to fight off attempts to regulate cable. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the FCC's classification of broadband as an "information service" should be preserved. The distinction is crucial--if cable is defined as having "telecommunications service" elements, local governments could impose regulations on cable broadband service.

The cable industry's arguments were presented to the courts by the Bush Administration.