Report says FCC chairman fudged cable data

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Cable TV scored a victory Tuesday when congressional investigators issued a devastating report that accuses FCC chairman Kevin Martin of manipulating data so that he might force changes on the industry.

In the report that exceeds 100 pages, Democratic lawmakers also criticize Martin, a Republican, of a "heavy-handed, opaque and non-collegial management style."

Martin is accused of manufacturing evidence in order to prove that a la carte cable TV pricing would be beneficial to consumers and that the so-called 70/70 Rule had been met, therefore giving the FCC far more regulatory sway over cablers.

The 70/70 Rule kicks in when 70% of U.S. consumers have access to cable and when 70% of those with access actually subscribe. Although the first threshold has been met, the cable industry says the second has not.

Martin, according to the report, cherry-picked data that indicated both metrics had been met — that is, until cable executives and other FCC members objected.

As for the a la carte issue, the Democrats charge that Martin sought to undermine a report from 2004 under then-FCC chairman Michael Powell that said such a strategy would lead to higher prices for consumers and the loss of some channels that attract smaller audiences.

Martin is a proponent of forcing cable companies into offering a la carte pricing.

Although the report is extraordinarily critical of Martin, it does not accuse him of criminal behavior. Republicans seized on that fact and defended Martin for what they call his efforts to introduce more choice and cheaper prices to cable customers.

"It appears that the committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a yearlong investigation," FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said. (partialdiff)
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