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FCC Chairman Martin a Tireless Consumer Advocate - Who Knew?

In a counter-intuitive move for a Republican free marketeer, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has sought to impose substantial additional regulations on cable television. Chairman Martin ostensibly can retain his credentials by claiming that a 1984 law requires the FCC to act when cable television systems serve 70% or more of the U.S. population and 70% who can subscribe do so.

A dispute about whether the cable has reached the so-called 70/70 benchmark temporarily has preempted the Chairman’s campaign. However the notion of adding regulation to help the consumer intrigues me, particularly in light of countless instances where Chairman Martin all too willingly relies on assumptions about the market and/or questionable statistics to refrain from regulation.

So what is it about cable television that triggers the Chairman’s regulatory urges? If cable has such a lock on markets where was the FCC all these many years, particularly now that true facilities-based competition from satellites and telephone companies will help solve the problems belated regulation is supposed to remedy?

I also wonder why Chairman Martin has no interest in regulating other instances where market power and pricing control appears more clearcut, e.g., special access wireline services outside of central business districts and residential broadband Internet access. There is no applicable 70/70 rule and neither service comes close to 70% penetration. Still the regulatory urge does not exist for wireline telecommunications.

Maybe it’s “I want my MTV” and I want it cheaper!

By Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair and Professor of Telecommunications and Law

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

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