Adelphia, Ownership Await Fifth Commissioner


It looks like both resolution of the Adelphia (Comcast/Time Warner) merger review and the media ownership rewrite will have to wait for a fifth commissioner.

In his first press conference as FCC chairman (a day short of his first anniversary in the job), Kevin Martin suggested that the pace of the Adelphia merger review, now in its 286th day, was the product of conversation with the parties involved. Martin would not address the merger specifically, but said that in merger review cases, the FCC "in each case works closely with the parties in front of us on the timing on how important it is to get through to the parties themselves. We try to be response to the parties and the time frames they end up having."

That likely means that with a commission split two-two, Republican and Democrat, the parties involved wanted to wait for a fifth commissioner to make sure of approval. "Obviously, right now there are four commissioners and you are going to have to reach a majority among the commissioners are here. And if there is a consensus and a majority on how to end up dealing with any of theses transactions I'll always move them through."
As for a media ownership review, which Martin tried to launch late last summer in what he thought was a "pretty neutral" order, he said that that was one of the "few" issues that the four-person commission could not get a majority on. 
There were reported differences over how many local hearings to hold and on the cost of new research to replace that pilloried by a federal appeals court.

Martin said that if he could get consensus on how to start a new notice of proposed rulemaking on revised ownership rules--the originals were thrown out as insufficiently supported by the courts--he would do it now, he said.

Martin said that, although he is ready to update the newspaper/broadcast ownership rules, i.e. get rid of the outright ban, he doesn't plan to break off that issue into a separate proceeding in advance of the overall media ownership rewright.

Before he was a chairman, and before the FCC rewrote the rules all of a piece, Martin had pushed for dealing with the newspaper/broadcast crossownership separately. But after the court ruled on them together, he said Friday that he thought it was important to "do a neutral notice that opens up all the issues that are in front of us."

That fifth commissioner is Robert McDowell, late of telcom lobby Comptel, who was confirmed by the Senate Commerce Committee March 16 and now awaits a full Senate vote. He is expected to be in the saddle by next month.