Barton: No Committee Support for Reregulating Cable
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman to Appear on C-SPAN's The Communicators
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/12/2007 12:19:00 PM
Former House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he doesn't think anybody on the committee is interested in reregulating cable, and that while he respects Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's intellect, he called him "somewhat inconsistent in applying conservative principles to the FCC."
His evidence of the latter, he said, is Martin's desire to relax newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership while at the same time "apparently" wanting to reregulate cable.
Barton's comments came in an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators series scheduled for broadcast this weekend.
Barton also said he has concerns about the transparency of the FCC's processes -- a concern shared by many Hill Democrats. "Most agencies like the FCC put out their agenda, put out draft orders, let there be comments and then schedule a vote and you have a process that is more transparent. Chairman Martin seems to hold the cards pretty close to his vest until he thinks he has the votes and then has one of these 'slam-bang' markups, so to speak. I think he would be better-served if he operated in a more open and transparent fashion."
He said he thinks there is robust cable competition -- specifically citing NFL Network -- and that the industry is not in need of reregulation.
He would not go so far as to say that Martin is anti-cable, saying instead that he "apparently has an agenda that is not as deregulatory as I would hope that a Republican chairman of the FCC would be with regard to the cable industry." Barton said he sometimes appears to be searching for a problem that isn't there, adding that there are more channels and pricing options than ever and that the industry is acting responsibly to some of Congress' concerns about content issues, citing family tiers some operators have created.
He added, "Are there things the FCC should be involved with in the cable industry? Sure there are. Are there problems that are so big that they need to be reregulated? I don't think so."
Barton said it was time to move on to other things.
He added that he thought that the so-called 70/70 test of cable market power is outdated due to increased satellite competition and the Internet, as well as broadcast competition. He signed onto a bill that would scrap the 70/70 test. He called the bill a "pre-emptive measure" to keep "our friends at the FCC from getting too aggressive on reregulation."
Asked whether he and Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) see eye-to-eye on many of the media issues, he said most of the time, arguing that it would pass its own 70/70 rule, meaning that on 70% of the issues, they agree 70% of the time. "I don't think anybody on the committee seriously wants to reregulate cable," he added.
Barton said, "to be honest," he thinks Martin would like to treat the cable industry differently than other industries, but overall, he does not think the FCC treats cable differently. He said the industry is "probably a little more closely scrutinized," but added, " I don't think overall they have been unfairly treated."
Barton said he supports Dingell's investigation into the FCC's processes as part of the proper watchdog function of the committee over regulatory agencies.
Barton recently replaced Fred Upton (R-Mich.) as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee. He told C-SPAN Upton asked for a new post as ranking member on the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee.
He added that the move had nothing to do with the fact that a letter he had sent to Martin regarding cable regulation was signed by 23 of the 26 Republicans but did not include Upton's signature.
It seems evident many do not understand or have not been informed of the number of cable companies, the industry is growing smaller by the day. There are fewer and fewer independent cable companies. What does this mean, really? In actuality, customer service suffers, local decisions are made at the corporate level and real needs of a community are ignored by these large companies.
There are basically five major cable companies that dictate what the industry does. They have deep pockets for lobbyist and lawyers that look out for the cable industry's interest. That's okay until the local community is no longer be serve.
Example, there is a small community where I live which cable system is owned by one of the big five. The system is constantly having signal problems. The citizen call for service and little to nothing is done for the citizen of the community. A story was related to me about this cable company concerning one of the government leaders of the community, this individual had terrible reception and called for a technician. The technician came out and told this individual the problem was inside his home. The technician left with that as his answer. The local government leader communicated again with the major cable company and told them who he was and why his reception can not be fixed. This major company sent another technician out and discovered there was water in the transmission lines on the company side of the lines.
This is typical with this company's service. It appears they don't care about this community. Because of the long running problems with the system, the cable company is loosing subscribers virtually everyday.
These big companies are so far removed from the local community, they say they are community oriented, but it's just lip service.
Our federal leaders need to come down to the trenches and see what is going own. The cable industry may not need a total work over, but we do not live in the 1960's or 1980's anymore.
I'm all for the cable companies making as much money as they can make, but not at the expense of the local communities they are suppose to be serving.
Chris Folsom - 12/13/2007 6:50:00 AM EST
This response to Rep. Barton is from a longtime (era 1961) active, very active Mississippi businessman Republican who at times has been part of cable ownership, has had partners who were pioneers in cable and who has owned small businesses, several of them newspapers and now a cable TV programming company using â€˜leased accessâ€™, and one that disagrees on cableâ€™s need to be â€˜re-regulatedâ€™.
Cable is no longer the domain of the local entrepreneur who provided a media service that even included local programming but one controlled by mega corporations who are more concerned with the stock price at the end of each day than whether or not theyâ€™re even coming close to being decent corporate citizens of the towns that granted the franchise they profit from.
Iâ€™m sorry Rep. Barton, but youâ€™ve been sold a bill of goods by cable and I say this as someone who has at times been the local PR mouthpiece for a cable operator.
I think Congress needs to look at how cable has shown absolute contempt for Congress as they refused to follow the mandate to provide a â€˜genuine outletâ€™ for local programming by producers unaffiliated with cable. Theyâ€™ve done this with the overt and somewhat blatant assistance from FCCâ€™s own Media Bureau and its predecessor as theyâ€™ve repeatedly sided with cable in leased access disputes.
A simple perusal of past orders in â€˜petitions for reliefâ€™ regarding leased access issues will reveal such glaring examples of this that an elementary student canâ€™t help but see it.
So, please Rep. Barton, talk with some of us who know both sides of cable before swallowing their â€˜spinâ€™ on FCC.
Charlie Stogner - 12/12/2007 6:26:00 PM EST
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