Head of Cable Lobby Condemns FCC Report

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007

The head of the cable television industry's lobbying group yesterday took aim at the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, blasting his attempts to place new regulations on cable companies while accusing the agency of manipulating data.

Kyle McSlarrow, president and chief executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, disputed a pending FCC report that suggests cable companies reach enough households to warrant additional oversight. He also said that FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin is using the threat of regulation to pressure cable companies into offering channels on an a la carte basis, which would let subscribers pay for only the stations they want.

Cable operators have opposed a la carte pricing, a hot-button issue for Martin.

"We're not going to fundamentally wreck business models and hurt customers to appease the chairman of the FCC," McSlarrow told reporters during a conference call yesterday. "If one looks at the commission's agenda . . . the issues that have been teed up have been designed to hurt the cable industry. If I were in that position," meaning the chairman, "that's not the way I would conduct myself."

A proposal circulating at the FCC would force cable companies to cut the fee they charge TV broadcasters to lease access on spare cable channels, which Martin said would provide viewers with a broader selection of programs. The proposal is the result of an annual report indicating that at least 70 percent of U.S. households have access to cable systems and at least 70 percent of those households subscribe, enough for a 1984 law to take effect that would give the FCC renewed regulatory power.

McSlarrow disagrees with that data and accuses the FCC of "twisting and manipulating statistics" to justify its actions. Citing other research, he said cable companies have access to about 60 percent of the market.

Martin has criticized cable companies for continuing to increase their rates while other communications industries, notably wireless and long-distance phone companies, have slashed their prices.

The data dispute is the latest standoff between Martin and McSlarrow, who was also a political appointee in the Bush administration. They have repeatedly clashed over agency actions directed toward the cable industry. Last month, the FCC struck down the ability of cable companies to form exclusive contracts to serve apartment buildings.

Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert M. McDowell, Martin's Republican allies on the commission, are also seeking more information about the data. The commissioners yesterday asked for additional information from Warren Communications News, the company that provided the research to the FCC.

"At least two commissioners are indeed seeking the trustworthiness, truthfulness and viability of the data in question," they wrote in a letter to Warren.

Mary Diamond, spokeswoman for the FCC's media bureau, said in a statement that the agency's top priority is offering cable subscribers lower prices and better service.

"The cable industry needs more competition," she said, "and we will continue to act to bring more competition and its benefits to consumers."

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