FCC Martin Aims Parting Shot At Cable Industry

Outgoing FCC chairman proposes hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for Comcast, Time Warner, other cable operators

Related: Kevin Martin - The Exit Interview
Kevin Martin closed his chairmanship of the FCC with hundreds of thousands of dollars in proposed fines against cable operators for failing to provide sufficient information to the commission in its investigation of the migration of channels from analog to digital, changing rates without sufficient notice, and more.

Hit with the fines were a who's who of cable operators, including Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Charter, Cox, Comcast, Bright House, and Harron.

The investigations were in response to complaints from Consumers Union and others that operators were migrating channels from analog to digital without lowering the price of the analog tier and in some cases raising it. Martin said in the letter that the FCC had gotten almost 600 complaints from cable subscribers. Martin called the practice "unacceptable."

Cable operators have been trying to get their customers to move to digital to free up bandwidth for advanced services, including migrating channels.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockfeller (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Martin said it had been "Unacceptable" that nine of 13 cable companies "did not provide the Commission with all of the information we requested," saying it had inhibited the investigation.

In the letter, Martin reiterated that cable rates have doubled while rates for other services have decreased in the same period of time. The cable industry points out that on a per-channel basis, the story is quite different.

"When cable operators migrate analog channels to a digital tier, consumers are forced to pay more if they wish to continue watching the same channels," wrote Martin. "Or, consumers may continue to pay the same amount to watch fewer channels. This is not the type of consumer choice that the Communications Act envisions. The commission has taken this issue seriously and I hope that Congress will as well."

The fines were proposed by the FCC's Media Bureau.

Cable operators have long thought Martin was being punative toward their industry, but Martin has stuck to his criticism of cable rates and pushed for cable to unbundle its channels.