Martin Defends Inquiry Into 'Consumer Confusion' Around DTV Transition

NCTA counters that chairman is 'subverting" procedure to reach "pre-ordained' conclusions

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Monday defended the FCC's enforcement bureau inquiry into whether cable operators were using the DTV transition to "confuse some consumers that they were going to have to go to a digital package as well."

TV station viewers have to switch to digital, but cable viewers of both analog and digital service must continue to receive a viewable signal per FCC rules, though cable operators volunteered to do so, pointing out it is in the cable industry’s interest to keep those viewers as well.

Martin said the FCC was also concerned that cable operators were charging viewers more for less when they moved some channels from analog to digital without lowering the price. "I think that is a concern that we should be aware of," pointing out the Consumers Union (CU) has complained to Congress.

Last month, Martin used the CU letter to reiterate his criticisms of cable.

"We agree with Consumers Union. Over the last decade average cable rates have more than doubled," he said in a statement Oct. 30. "And now cable companies are charging consumers more but consumers are receiving less.

"We have also received complaints that cable companies are moving channels to a digital-only tier and charging consumers the same monthly rate for a reduced number of channels.  If consumers wish to continue watching the same channels that they were before, they must now buy a more expensive package or rent more expensive equipment. This is an unfortunate trend for families facing increasingly difficult economic times."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association responded Monday to Martin's defense of letters sent out from the Enforcement Bureau to cable operators.

"It is perplexing that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has sent Letters of Inquiry to cable and telco video providers insinuating they are acting inappropriately in rolling out new digital video services and technologies," said NCTA spokesman Biran Dietz. " The Bureau’s actions are clearly contrary to the FCC’s own policies encouraging the rollout of new digital services. 

 “Cable operators have invested tens of billions of dollars in new technology to migrate cable services to digital platforms, opening to consumers a new world of high-definition channels, interactive services, and innovative digital broadband products.  Consumers overwhelmingly want these services, and the Commission itself on several occasions has enacted rules to further speed and encourage this transition.  This ‘inquiry’ appears designed to reverse course, freeze innovative technology, delay the migration, and throw the move to a digital world into reverse.