FCC's Martin: Markets Rule
In his first public appearance outside Washington since his appointment as chairman, Martin revealed nearly nothing about what sort of regulator he will be, other than he will continue to advance some deregulation and competition efforts promoted by his predecessor Michael Powell.
“I think that, from my personal vantage point, the market is much more important than regulation, as far as driving innovation and trying to provide choices for consumers,” Martin says. “But that doesn’t mean the government doesn’t have an important role to play; we have to lay down the rules of the road to make sure there is fair competition out there,” he says.
Martin's appearance was staged as a sit-down interview with Fox News presenter Stuart Varney. “I’m trying to establish what kind of a regulator you are going to be,” Varney asked. “What are you going to do to shape the industry?”
“First of all, I don’t think you can shape the industry in the direction you want to go even if you tried,” Martin replied. “It would be like herding cats.”
“My predecessor, Michael Powell, tried to level the playing field in a deregulatory fashion," Martin says. “We talk about preferring markets to competition and trying to realize that competition is first, and then you have to have deregulation.”
Martin says the guiding principles of his chairmanship will include “preferring markets and competition to regulation whenever possible, trying to establish a level playing field for everyone who it competing, and making sure there is an opportunity to make sure that the various media have a chance to compete in this converging marketplace.”
Yet, somehow, Martin leaves the impression that the fight to provide broadband is nearly over. On President Bush’s desire for broadband ability to reach the whole population by 2007, Martin says “we are already far along that road, but there is still work to be done.” But then he added that 90 percent of U.S. households have access to broadband if they want it.
On the subject of indecency, a pressing issue for cable operators, Martin deflected responsibility to Congress and the cable industry itself. He says the FCC is simply charged with enforcing the legal definition of indecency. “At bottom, the commission is a creation of Congress,” Martin says.
“I think the cable industry has an opportunity to step up to the plate to address issues -- they have an opportunity to speak to me and to consumers and parents,” he adds.
The new commissioner closed his brief appearance by saying his first order of business was personnel-related, probably referring to the task of replacing all of Powell’s bureau chiefs (see The FCC Plays Musical Chairs).
Then he assured everyone that, whatever they do, the FCC will be well behind the times. “Even on the indecency issues, we take a reactive stance,” Martin says. “We hear complaints and we react to them.”
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading