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Kevin Martin's Greatest Hits

Jeff Baumgartner
1/16/2009
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The U.S. cable industry shed a collective, sentimental tear Thursday upon hearing the news that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin will resign his post at the regulatory agency on Jan. 20, 2009, with all reports indicating that Julius Genachowski is teed up to take his place as the Obama administration moves into the White House. (See Martin Resigning FCC Post.)

Martin's next stop? Senior fellow at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. Sounds very, umm, tree-like.

In a statement, Mr. à la Carte said he "approached… decisions with a fundamental belief that a robust, competitive marketplace, not regulation, is ultimately the best protector of the public interest and the best method of delivering the benefits of choice, innovation, and affordability to American consumers."

He also attached a laundry list of "principal achievements" the FCC made during his chairmanship. Check this document for the breathless details, but some of the items on that list include promoting broadband deployment; ushering in an era of wireless broadband (700 MHz and AWS spectrum auctions, use of "white spaces," et al.); fostering innovation and open technology platforms (i.e., separable security in digital cable boxes); and promoting competition in the video marketplace.

There's no way to cover all that ground here, so, instead, here's our stab at the Top 10 Kevin Martin Moments (in no particular order), including some big regulatory decisions (with a significant cable emphasis, because that's how we roll here at Cable Digital News) that came down on his watch.

  • Martin looks to invoke the so-called "70-70" rule, which, if met, could enable the FCC to regulate the cable industry even more aggressively, and perhaps give the Chairman an easier path toward the à la carte programming regime he so covets. The cable industry, meanwhile, argued that the rule, which comes into play if 70 percent of U.S. homes are passed by MSOs, with at least 70 percent of those homes actually subscribing to a cable service, hasn't been met. (See NCTA to FCC: 'Hands Off!' )

  • Martin agrees to a cable-proposed compromise that applies a three-year sunset to a rule requiring MSOs to deliver "must-carry" TV stations in digital and analog format following the broadcast TV transition on Feb. 17, 2009. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)

  • Martin's FCC shows it's in the corner of the little guys, however, when it extends a three-year hi-def/digital television exemption to systems with 2,500 or fewer customers or with activated capacity of 552 MHz or less. While those systems don't have to comply with the dual "must carry" rule, they don't get the deal if they are affiliated with MSOs serving more than 10 percent of the nation's video customers -- so Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) still lose out. (See FCC Details Small Cable DTV Exemption.)

  • Martin was on hand to flip a bigger-than-life switch that symbolized Wilmington, N.C., moving into the digital age -– roughly six months before the rest of the country, provided, of course, that the government doesn't decide to delay the transition. (See Wilmington Flips the Digital Switch .)

  • Martin tells the CES crowd in 2007 that the Commission will not grant Comcast a special waiver on some low-end set-tops with integrated security ahead of a ban that took affect later that year. (See FCC to Comcast: 'No Waiver for You'.) After that we pretty much got used to writing stories about how Comcast's latest and greatest efforts to obtain the coveted waiver got denied by the FCC (again) or by the courts. Fun times. (See Comcast Denied Set-Top Waiver (Again).)

  • On the eve of the set-top security ban, FCC grants waivers to dozens of others, however, including Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), on the condition that they go all-digital by February 2009. (See Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

  • In a close vote, the FCC orders Comcast to migrate off its existing bandwidth management platform by the end of 2008 -– a deadline and a policy to which the MSO had already committed. To complete the wrist slap, Martin keeps a promise not to hit the MSO with a fine. (See FCC Throttles Comcast, FCC Puts Comcast on the Clock , and Martin Not in a 'Fine' Mood.)

  • In a move that actually favored the cable industry -- take a deep breath, and then move on -- the FCC overturned an earlier staff decision to dismiss a cable complaint alleging that Verizon was using illegal methods to retain phone subs. As for Martin, he dissented, holding that such aggressive win-back tactics used by Verizon increase competition and lower service prices. (See FCC Orders Verizon to Dial Back Win Back Tactics.)

  • Even though the cable industry has developed special tuning adapters to take care of this problem, the FCC goes ahead and tries to fine Time Warner Cable and Cox for "wilfully" preventing some unidirectional CableCARD-based devices from accessing programming that was moved to a switched digital video (SDV) tier. (See FCC Levies More SDV-Related Fines and NCTA Sees Solution to Switching Snag.)

  • And, just last week, at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, Martin couldn’t resist getting in one more dig at tru2way , claiming the MSOs still have too much control and the project hinders product innovation. (See FCC's Martin Harps on Tru2way .)


Any glaring omissions? If so, let's discuss them on the message boards…

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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