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Martin Misses

Jeff Baumgartner
11/28/2007

So, I flew to San Jose Tuesday afternoon to gear up for the CableNEXT show, thinking I'd be spending a good chunk of my afternoon and evening catching up on that big meeting at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , where Chairman Kevin Martin supposedly was going to take the U.S. cable industry to the woodshed and smack them in the head with new (and probably nasty) regulations.

Or maybe not. At least not yet.

Before I boarded, there was word that the meeting was going to be delayed until 11 a.m. Eastern Time, about 90 minutes later than originally scheduled.

Uh-oh, I thought. We've seen this one before. A 90-minute delay can easily turn into several hours, considering the pace at which things tend to get done in D.C. (See Boredom at 151 kbit/s.)

Thankfully for everyone involved, the delay and final decisions did not go into the evening hours. Instead, the meeting was postponed indefinitely as Martin reportedly did not have the votes to carry through controversial data that would trigger the so-called "70/70 rule" and give the agency reason to impose sweeping new regulations on the cable industry. (See More Martin Hits Coming? )

Two fellow Republican FCC Commissioners -- Robert McDowell and Deborah Tate -- had already called into question the details of the report, which were to show that U.S. cable offered services in 70 percent of the country with 70 percent of those homes taking cable service. The Wall Street Journal, citing FCC officials, said Jonathan Adelstein, a Democratic Commissioner, also refused to back up Martin. (See Cable Finds FCC Allies.)

Martin's plight was not helped earlier this week when four Republican Senators questioned whether new regulations were needed and if the Chairman even had the authority to implement them. (See Love Letter.)

Most reports show penetration levels to be well below the 70 percent threshold, backed in part by the fact that the top six MSOs had lost nearly 200,000 video subs in the last year. (See NCTA to FCC: 'Hands Off!' .)

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) lobbying machine went into overdrive to help kill (or at least seriously maim) Martin's agenda for the cable industry. It also helped greatly that the math just didn't appear to add up. It's certainly hard to get a majority of people -- even those in the government -- to go along with the notion that one-plus-one equals three.

But it's not over yet. Martin, the paper noted, told reporters that he will now attempt to broaden his report and include information obtained directly from the cable industry.

Let's just say that he'll have little trouble getting the industry to comply with that request.

So far, there's been no formal comments from MSOs or the NCTA in the wake of the delay. Cable won this round, but the fight's not over. No reason to gloat in public yet.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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