Martin Pledges Even Playing Field

LAS VEGAS Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin insisted he has no anti-cable agenda during an address at Monday’s opening session of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show here.

And while he wasn’t greeted with an overwhelming clamor of approbation, Martin didn’t draw any caws from the boo birds, either, although his one quiet attempt at a joke was met with stony silence.

Martin, who has been aggressive in his regulation of digital cable services, is widely seen as a powerful antagonist to the MSOs’ ambitions to maintain their relative stranglehold over the broadband space. He’s also a supporter of the wildly unpopular a la carte pricing plan—all of which makes him something of a pariah in the estimation of the coax crowd.

Starting his address with a quick read of some of the trade press’ more strident coverage from the past few weeks, Martin said that he wanted “to set the record straight,” counting off a litany of instances in which he as FCC chairman had actually supported cable.

“I agree that the government should refrain from taxing broadband service,” Martin said, adding that he also agrees with the MSOs with his anti-net neutrality stance and his distaste for universal services fees that “would only subsidize your telco competitors.”

At times, Martin did seem to get his back up, arguing that he tries to “pick the action that will facilitate competition and consumer choice…and sometimes that calls for deregulation,” he said, “Sometimes my policies actually favor the cable industry.”

If Martin’s overview of his recent regulatory actions won him any converts, he lost them again when he brought up a la carte.

“I don’t think that cable subscribers should have to buy Spike TV in order to see the Discovery Channel,” Martin said. “This issue just becomes more important as the number of channels on expanded basic continues to grow.”

While Martin walked away from the dais to polite applause, the chairman’s avowal to continue his “vigorous exchange” was met with a few low murmurs of skepticism.