Cable, telco folks unhappy with FCC boss Hundt

Reed Hundt has been on the job barely six weeks as the new FCC chairman, but already there are grumblings from within the telecommunications industry over his performance.

Lobbyists from the cable TV and telephone industries complained this week that they either couldn’t get an audience with Hundt, or that once in his office , Hundt’s staff summarily dismissed suggestions and then quickly sent them packing.

A representative of one of the seven Baby Bell telephone companies said the Regional Bell Operating Co. has yet to meet with Hundt, despite repeated phone and fax pleas to the new chairman’s office. “This is a real departure from what we’ve been used to,” said the telco rep. “It’s frustrating.”

Cable TV industry lobbyists were also miffed after brief meetings with Hundt’s staff. One cable lawyer said he got the “clear impression” that the FCC is not interested in listening to cable’s complaints.

In a sign reminiscent of former FCC chairman Al Sikes’ era, FCC staffers in other offices are also privately claiming they have been shut out of the dialogue with the chairman’s staff. “The level of communication has not been too high” between the offices, said one staffer.

Cable’s angst over Hundt comes in the wake of rumors circulating in D.C. this week that Hundt hopes to roll back cable rates well beyond the 10% in rate reductions enacted last year. Hundt’s office declined comment.

The new FCC chairman is under tremendous pressure from Congress to get tough on cable. On his first day at the job, he received a letter from 34 senators recommending further cable price rollbacks. Thursday, the FCC postponed a meeting set for Jan. 13 that was skedded to address a number of unresolved cable rereg matters.

A spokeswoman in the FCCpublic relations department disputed claims that Hundt has been difficult to reach. “They’re doing everything they can to meet with people and get lots of different viewpoints,” she said.

Also coming to Hundt’s defense were fellow commissioner James Quello, and National Assn. of Broadcasters general counsel Jeff Baumann. Quello said Hundt has been “very receptive” and “very open” in dealings with him.

Baumann, meanwhile, said the NAB met with Hundt prior to Christmas and found him “very accommodating.”

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