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Hispanic, rural groups flog FCC

Martin under fire to cable TV regulations

Hispanic and rural groups blasted Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin’s plan to impose new regulations on cable television, calling it a form of “media sharecropping” based on “twisted” facts.

Martin recently announced that cable had reached a point of market dominance that triggers, under a 1984 federal law, FCC action to ensure “diversity and competition.” That point involves the so-called 70-70 rule, which holds that if 70% of American homes can get cable TV systems with 36 channels or more, and 70% of those homes actually do subscribe to such a system, the FCC can take action.

One reg Martin is planning would force cablers to lease access to their networks, an idea the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders criticized as merely a means to a different end — a la carte cable subscriptions — that Martin does not have authority to impose. And a la carte would undermine minority programming, the coalition said.

“Increasing minority-owned media outlets should be the FCC’s top priority,” said Rev. Miguel Rivera, coalition president, in a statement. “Instead, this chairman has proven, time and time again, that his interests lie elsewhere. Chairman Martin’s obsession with decimating minority cable station ownership through a la carte pricing laws has been followed by a series of attempts to practically give away cable channel capacity to home shopping networks and other entities rather than make it available to emerging Hispanic-owned networks.

“The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders urges the other commissioners to vote down this latest media sharecropping proposal.”

Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation, accused Martin of exploiting the 70-70 rule to make “a last-ditch effort” to impose pet policies that “could undermine Hispanic-owned networks on cable by depriving them of the economic model that supports them… These are bad ideas that will have devastating effects on Hispanic ownership and representation in the media.

“It seems that Chairman Martin has recognized that the only way to push through these unpopular policies is by taking advantage of regulatory loopholes and annexing authority that belongs to the legislatures.”

League of Rural Voters exec director Niel Ritchie, who has criticized Martin’s digital television transition plans as inadequate for ensuring that rural viewers make the transition, said the new regs could increase cable rates for low- and middle-income families.

“The FCC’s continuing effort to stiff-arm rural viewers has hit a new low,” Ritchie said. “Chairman Martin’s relentless pursuit of a la carte regulations, which studies have shown would snuff out program choice while raising prices, drove him to twist the facts reported by his own agency.

“Now, by threatening to invoke the FCC’s outdated 70-70 authority, the chairman is committing a completely unreasonable legal overreach, twisting both fact and congressional intent to enact the very same rules — multicast, must carry, a more expansive leased access regime, and even a la carte cable rules — that Congress would not.”

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

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