Undeterred Martin seeks cap on cable


Unbowed over the commission's rejection of his attempt to regulate the cable industry on Tuesday, FCC chairman Kevin Martin remains determined to push an aggressive media agenda at the agency.

On Thursday, he began circulating proposals for the commission's January meeting that includes setting a maximum cable-company subscriber ceiling, an inquiry on product integration in TV shows and easing media- ownership limits on newspaper and broadcast companies.

Under a 1992 law, Congress directed the FCC to set limits on the number of customers one company can reach nationwide. While the FCC settled on a 30% cap, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the rule in 2001, saying the agency had failed to adequately justify its reasoning.

The issue, largely dormant since then, has resurfaced as Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, recently reported 26.2 million subscribers through Sept. 30 for a nationwide market share of 27%. The company said it lost 65,000 subscribers in the past quarter.

Sources said Martin wants the cap at 30%.

Comcast executive vp David Cohen called the proposed cap "perplexing" given the agency's approval last year of AT&T's buyout of BellSouth. Comcast competes with AT&T for phone, video and broadband customers.

Consumer groups support a cap. Gene Kimmelman, vp federal and international affairs at Consumers Union, said if the largest cable companies were permitted to merge it would create "an enormous competition problem" for any new entrants. Too much control also would make it difficult for independent programmers to get their shows on cable systems, he added.

Martin also is shopping a proposal that would have the agency open an inquiry into whether TV product-placement disclosure rules should be changed as product integration has become a bigger practice on television.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has pushed for the inquiry, as have the guilds. In August, the WGA West asked the FCC to write a regulation that would require the networks to tell viewers when advertisers have paid to get their products integrated into TV shows. SAG also has been active on the issue in Washington.

At the September media-ownership hearing in Chicago, Martin cited the growing use of product integration in TV scripts as something the commission should examine.

Martin also wants commissioners to vote on his proposal to allow one company to own both a newspaper and a radio or television station in the nation's 20 largest markets at that same meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.