Dingell keeps heat on FCC

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FCC chairman Kevin Martin must feel as if he has a target on his back.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, on Wednesday demanded e-mails and other records from the FCC as he continues his investigation of Martin and the commission.

In an exhaustive interrogatory sent to the FCC, Dingell asked a series of pointed questions covering everything from Martin's attempt to force cable operators to change their business model to the FCC decision to send representatives to the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva.

In the letter, which also was signed by the committee's senior Republican, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee said they "are investigating allegations from current and former FCC employees and other sources, which we have reason to believe are credible."

FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond said that "we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the committee."

Dingell launched the investigation Jan. 8 after becoming frustrated with Martin for what he perceives as the chairman's secretive running of the agency and a disregard for following the Administrative Procedures Act.

"These allegations relate to management practices that may adversely affect the commission's ability both to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud and abuse," the committee wrote. "While the sources are believed to be credible, the committee will require additional information and records to determine whether these allegations can be substantiated."

Included in Dingell's interrogatory is a call for "all e-mail communication, memoranda, electronic and handwritten notes, records of telephone conversations, talking points and meeting schedules" related to Martin's 2005 decision to revise an earlier commission report that said forcing la carte cable programming sales would cost consumers more money.

He also wants internal FCC records related to Martin's attempt to get the commission to conclude that cable regulation was triggered under the so-called 70-70 rule. A provision in the 1984 Cable Act says that the government can regulate cable operators with 36 or more channels once they are available to 70% of the nation's households and at least 70% of those households subscribe to the service.

Martin backed away from the proposal after other commissioners questioned his methodology. Martin obtained his data from the Television and Cable Factbook, published annually by Warren Communications News. In the past, the agency's analysis included Warren, two other outside sources and its own annual cable price survey.
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