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FCC functioning ‘pretty smoothly’

Despite recent conflict, relations remain 'cordial'

Despite some recent sharp exchanges among the Federal Communications Commission’s five leaders, Republican commissioner Robert McDowell said working relations remain “cordial” and the agency continues to function “pretty smoothly.”

But McDowell declined to say whether FCC chairman Kevin Martin has fulfilled a pledge he made to the cable industry last spring to give “full and fair hearing” to all its issues. Critics as well as cablers have been claiming that Martin, who has pushed for more regulation of the industry, is pursuing an anti-cable agenda.

In a Thursday press conference with reporters, McDowell fielded a range of questions, several of which followed up on recent congressional criticism that the FCC is not functioning properly as well as on the occasionally bitter comments commissioners have made during the past two monthly meetings.

Congress doesn’t need to initiate any “major reconstructive surgery” for the agency, he said, and the disputes, heated as they have been at times, “are not personal.”

“We’ve had a lot of contentious issues before us, and it’s also been a very busy year,” he added. “Those things can create tension.”

Possibly the greatest source of tension was Martin’s attempt last month to use single-source data to justify new regulatory authority over the cable industry. McDowell and fellow GOP commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate vigorously opposed Martin. A meeting skedded to start at 9:30 a.m. to vote on the matter was delayed 12 hours as Martin tried to negotiate a compromise. When the meeting finally began, Tate and McDowell eventually rebuked Martin for what he was trying to do, saying it was as yet unjustifiable, and the Democratic commissioners were not much kinder. Martin defended his actions.

Asked whether Martin has abided by a public promise he made to cablers at their annual convention last May — to give them “a full and fair hearing” on all their issues and concerns — McDowell at first demurred, then said, “The cable industry has certainly been kept busy by the chairman” and has been given ample opportunity to comment on issues.

“Have they gotten full and fair outcomes?” another reporter asked.

“They’ve been full outcomes,” McDowell said. “They’ve been full of something.”

Other matters McDowell addressed included the proposed XM-Sirius satellite radio merger and broadcast indecency.

On the former, he said the commission is waiting for the Justice Dept. to define what the marketplace is before ruling on whether to approve the merger.

?n the latter, he said the FCC is not acting on any indecency complaints, pending a decision from the 3rd Circuit Court on FCC indecency authority and a petition to the Supreme Court to review another court decision on the same issue.

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