Martin: Untying, Unbundling Cable Programming Would Help Minorities

FCC Chairman Discusses Initiatives to Help Minorities 10/12/2007 08:31:00 AM Eastern

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin was both applauded and prodded at a media conference devoted to empowering minorities to wrest at least some of the media agenda from the major players.

Kevin Martin

Rainbow/PUSH founder The Rev. Jesse Jackson led his lunch audience in a little call and response Friday. "Better that we lease than rent," he said. "Better that we own than lease," he added, as the primarily African-American crowd echoed him in his call to the "mountaintop."

That followed a luncheon speech at a Rainbow/PUSH media conference in Washington, D.C., Friday by Martin in which he proposed a number of FCC moves to help minorities, including lowering leased-access rates and leasing excess digital-TV spectrum to designated entries, including minorities, to increase digital voices.

Jackson called for, and got, a standing ovation for Martin for being willing to come and discuss minority issues. Also in attendance were Democratic commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, who were described at one point in an earlier press conference as the "eyes and ears" of minority issues at the FCC, and Republican commissioner Robert McDowell.

Getting an "excused absence" was commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who was in California Thursday picking up an award from Common Sense Media.

Martin also pushed for program unbundling at both the wholesale and subscriber level, saying that he thought the FCC should prohibit programmers from requiring operators to buy bundles of channels that include ones viewers don't want, as well as requiring operators to unbundle channel offerings to allow viewers to buy channels a la carte.

This will lower cable bills, he said, while making it easier for independent voices, like minorities, to get cable carriage. The cable industry argued that a la carte will do the opposite.

Martin talked both about what the FCC had already done for minorities and what he was proposing to do. In the former category was boosting broadband penetration among African Americans from 14% when he took over as chairman to 40% today.

As a segue into calls for a la carte and prohibitions on tying, he talked about the importance of cable competition to minorities in terms of access to programming and lower cable bills.

He said one step the FCC had already taken in that direction was video-franchise reforms that make it easier for telcos to offer competitive service. He added that he had proposed to the other commissioners prohibiting multichannel-video providers from entering into exclusive contracts with apartment buildings that prevent residents from choosing competing services, pointing out that 40% of African-American households lived in apartments.

Martin also proposed restoring minority tax certificates -- a proposal that got applause.