- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday voted to impose a 30 percent limit on the market share of subscribers served by video providers, in what Chairman Kevin J. Martin called an effort to “promote competition and the diversity of voices.”

Mr. Martin, a Republican, approved the measure along with the media-regulating agency’s two Democrats, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein. The majority said the cap is necessary to ensure the viability of new video providers entering the market.

Under the 1992 Cable Act, Congress instructed the agency to draft “reasonable limits” on cable ownership as long as those rules “reflect the dynamic nature of the communications marketplace.” In the late 1990s, the commission established a 30 percent ownership cap that was invalidated by the D.C. Circuit Court, which said the agency failed to provide enough justification for it.

Mr. Martin’s Republican colleagues, Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert M. McDowell, who earlier voted with him to roll back limits on media ownership, said yesterday’s rule is too similar to the old one and will not pass judicial muster.

Comcast Corp., the country’s largest video provider with a 27 percent share of subscribers, called the rule “perverse.”

“The record simply does not support the divided commission vote to impose the same ownership cap that the D.C. Circuit ruled unconstitutional over six years ago, when there was a lot less competition in the video marketplace,” said David L. Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast.

Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, likewise said increased competition among satellite, telephone and cable companies does not support an ownership cap.

Do Not Call

Millions of Americans likely will be saved bothersome phone calls during dinner next summer, now that the Senate has joined the House in approving a bill that would make phone numbers on the Do Not Call registry permanent.

Numbers on the list were scheduled to begin expiring in June, five years after it was established, but the Federal Trade Commission said it will hold off pending final approval of the Do Not Call Improvement Act of 2007. The legislation prevents the FTC, which controls the list, from removing a number unless a consumer requests it.

More than 145 million phone numbers have been added to the registry since its creation. Consumers can access the registry at Donotcall.gov.

Holidays at the FCC

Commissioners on both sides of the aisle at yesterday’s contentious FCC meeting invoked the spirit of the season in their statements.

Mr. Copps, on the relaxation of newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership: “We generously ask big media to sit on Santa’s knee, tell us what it wants for Christmas, and then push through whatever wishes are politically and practically feasible. … Just another big, shiny present for the favored few who already hold an FCC license — and a lump of coal for the rest of us. Happy holidays.”

Mr. McDowell, on the 30 percent cable-ownership cap: “This order will be overturned by the D.C. Circuit. Even Ebeneezer Scrooge would pry a few coins from his miserly hands to place that bet.”

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. E-mail krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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