Congress Looks To Close Kevin Martin's Loophole For Regulating Cable

from the not-so-fast,-kiddo dept

Last month we noted how amusing it was that supposedly "anti-regulation" FCC chair Kevin Martin suddenly turned "pro-regulation" when it came to cable companies -- the arch enemies of Martin's buddies in the telcos. For years, Martin has hoped that he could force cable companies to offer a la carte programming, which was really a move to help push "family friendly" programming. Of course, the problem was that the FCC doesn't have regulatory control over cable systems. It was designed to regulate the public airwaves, not the private cable lines. However, there was a loophole found in the 1934 Communications Act, that would give the FCC the right to regulate cable if two conditions were met: it was available to 70% of the population, and 70% of those who had it available subscribed. Martin has used that loophole to push for regulations -- but there's plenty of disagreement as to whether or not the numbers really pass the 70/70 rule. For example, the FCC's own numbers pin the number at only 54%. Martin chose someone else's numbers to get his necessary 70%. Either way, though, he still hasn't given a good reason for why the FCC should regulate cable.

While the debate on this issue continues, some folks in Congress are looking to make the whole thing meaningless anyway, by taking away Martin's loophole. They want to amend the Communications Act to remove the 70/70 provision. This seems reasonable, as it appears that Martin is only looking to regulate for political reasons. What's not clear from the article is whether or not the support is there to pass this change to the Act. Tragically, it may depend on who politicians are more in bed with: the telcos or the cable cos.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: cable, fcc, kevin martin, marsha blackburn, regulations

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 10 Dec 2007 @ 12:40pm


    I actually agree with this being passed.
    As long as there aren't a bunch of other worthless things passed with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    shanoboy (profile), 10 Dec 2007 @ 1:01pm


    Don't we have enough censorship in the United States! If it's a matter of family friendly programming, maybe they should spend more on promoting the V-chip or something. But I guess control is the real issue here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shun, 10 Dec 2007 @ 1:13pm

    Then again

    Well, according to wetmachine, here. The 70/70 landmark has already passed. I think the premise of this article needs to be examined. We need to ask ourselves: Does cable need to be regulated? In most regions of the U.S., you are given a choice of exactly 1 cable company. They usually have lock-in franchises with the municipality or county. So if you are arguing that cable co's don't have a monopoly, or are a type of business that practices monopolistic behavior, then you're writing for the wrong tech blog.

    I don't agree that the FCC purview only extends to over-the-air communications. If this were true, they would have no influence over copper-wire long-distance (I know, an anachronism) companies. Bell would still be Bell. Somewhere along the line, the FCC became responsible for regulating the communications of land-line companies, as well. If the latter didn't happen, there would be no problem with Kevin Martin being in bed with the U.S. telcos. It'd just make a rather disgusting mental image.

    I tend to believe that any centrally controlled, or potentially controllable communications medium should be regulated, either by the FCC or another agency. Basically, hub-and-spoke == regulation. Mesh == non-regulation. Self-regulation tends not to work. Regulation by captive agencies is resulting in the same result. I guess nationalization is the alternative, but good luck getting that through our "Free Market" public.

    The best solution would be to abolish the FCC and turn the airwaves back over to the people. Trust the people to know what to do with it. If it turns into another kindergarten fight, then you can bring the nanny back. I think we are mature enough to negotiate our own terms with the public airwaves. As long as we have all of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      BTR1701, 10 Dec 2007 @ 1:26pm

      Re: Then again

      > but good luck getting that through our
      > "Free Market" public.

      You say that as if it's pejorative-- that the public won't stand for a government takeover of private businesses, private property and/or entire industries.

      > So if you are arguing that cable co's
      > don't have a monopoly...

      If they want to regulate cable in the context of rate-setting, monopolistic practices and the like, that's entirely different than the government dictating content-- what channels are carried, what can shown and when, and especially the pure-D bullshit we've been seeing lately with massive fines for saying "naughty words" or the 1/2 millisecond exposure of some aging pop-star's body part during a sporting event. Hell, they're even fining networks now based on what someone in the crowd yells out during a football game.

      Right now cable is the only place you can see excellent shows like "The Sopranos" or "The Wire" or "The Shield" or "South Park" because the FCC's iron-fisted puritanical reign over broadcast content won't permit it. The last thing I want to see is that kind of nonsense applied to cable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    satiricohen, 10 Dec 2007 @ 1:24pm

    "Tragically, it may depend on who politicians are more in bed with: the telcos or the cable cos."

    As long as they're not in bed with the voters -now that would be a disaster...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shun, 10 Dec 2007 @ 2:09pm

    I am bashing the Free Market

    Yeah, I guess I'm too much of a lefty to see the detrimental effects of nationalization. You'll have to explain it to me when all of the industrialists go ape and start sabotaging stuff. Actually, I guess the main issue would be the incompetence of any government running an industrial enterprise. I've got to stop thinking of government as some sort of universal solvent. It doesn't work that way, except in Plato's fantasies.

    Anyway, I wasn't advocating for content censorship, of any sort. Any network should be able to market themselves as family-friendly. If they sell themselves as kid safe, but manage to slip, then they'll get roasted by the public. In this context, FCC fines make little sense.

    Unfortunately, FCC decisions seem to be based entirely on the politics of the day. There doesn't seem to be a core of disinterested civil servants making sane policy decisions over there. The funny thing is, I'm sure that the FDA or the EPA probably go through the same politicized decision-making process, but they don't get the press.

    Maybe it's because we in the internet community are more sensitive to issues that affect us directly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    william, 10 Dec 2007 @ 2:24pm


    This will mean that every one will need a set top box to unscramble channels you subscribe to which will most likely come at a monthly fee. And individual channels would likely be more expensive. But in the long run I think it would make cable companies more competitive.

    But changing the entire system and forcing them to comply would put an undue burden no the cable companies IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rick, 10 Dec 2007 @ 3:07pm

      Re: TV

      What's the difference between an undue burden on the cable companies and the undue burden of myself having to pay 25% of my cable bill for a sports package I never watch?

      Is it fair for ESPN to be forced on everyone?

      How about the 'family programming' costs? I honestly never watch any of those 50 channels. I bet that's another 25-40% of my bill.

      People should be able to get what they want and not be forced to pay for what other people want. I don't care if I have to pay $3-$5 each per channel a month instead of the 25-50cents a channel now - it'll still cut my cable bill in half. The people who want ESPN and Family programming can pay for it themselves - who cares if it costs them more.

      If a household only watches 10 channels out of 200 - why do they have to pay for the other 190 channels?

      This is not England. We do not have to pay a BBC license fee - why are we still being forced to pay for family programming, religious, shopping channels and sports - whether we want to or not?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.