NCTA prexy wants regulatory reform

McSlarrow calls FCC's reg system 'irrelevant'

WASHINGTON — The regulatory system governing the ever-expanding communications marketplace is “increasingly irrelevant” and in need of dramatic reform, according to the cable industry’s top lobbyist.

Speaking to a luncheon gathering of the Media Institute on Tuesday, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. prexy-chief Kyle McSlarrow said, “It is long past time to consider a fundamental shift” in the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory approach to the industry, which has changed markedly in the 11 years since Congress last addressed it with legislation.

McSlarrow’s prescription: “A presumption against regulation, and in fact all FCC regulations would sunset in five years.”

“That proposal envisions a role for the FCC more like that of the Federal Trade Commission,” he continued. “The FCC would have authority to intervene in the marketplace only if it determines that marketplace competition would not adequately protect consumers against unfair methods of competition or unfair and deceptive practices.”

McSlarrow acknowledged that he patterned his ideas largely around those recently articulated by a libertarian think-tank, the Progress & Freedom Foundation, which in the past has argued for drastic reduction in the regulatory powers of the FCC.

“I am not saying the FCC should go away,” McSlarrow carefully added. “There are lots of other things they do that are important.”

Rather, he said, an FCC that made regulation “the exception rather than the rule… would sweep away much of the accumulated regulatory baggage that burdens the communications industries — rate and entry regulation, detailed oversight of service quality, prior regulatory approval to construct new facilities, government mandated access to distribution platforms, intrusive content regulation.”

McSlarrow quoted former FCC chairman William Kennard, who in 1999 said, “The FCC must wisely manage the transition from an industry regulator to market facilitator.”

“That was a great vision,” McSlarrow said. “It is not even close to where we are today. Instead, we see an agency whose budget keeps increasing. We have an agency that seeks more regulatory authority rather than less.”

FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin attended the cable industry’s annual convention last week and, in a keynote speech, promised to give cablers “a fair hearing” on all issues, stressing that he was not, as many had come to believe, anti-cable.

Asked if he was convinced the promise was genuine, McSlarrow replied, “I take him at his word. And I’m going to take him up on it.”

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