Chairman Kev whupped with a cable

Who needs communications industry smackdowns when the players do the swatting for you? We were getting ready to tally up a tough week for FCC chairman Kevin Martin when Kyle McSlarrow, the head of the cable TV lobbying group, went all Carmelo on chairman Kev in a conference call Tuesday, saying Martin had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the cable industry, and was “stuck in a time warp.” Just in time for Wedneday’s FCC decision on whether or not it wants to try to set rules in the video-franchising arena, a playing field where some say it may not have any legal standing. Update: The FCC voted, 3-2, to implement Martin’s video rules. More to come.

Martin’s stumping for easing rules on video franchising — the process by which providers gain entrance to locally governed cable markets — is a process backed by big GOP contributors AT&T and Verizon, the prime agenda-setters for Martin’s reign atop the FCC. That tenure, once seen as bright and effective, has hit some snags lately, not the least of which is the change of power in Congress, as Congress is in essence the FCC’s boss (since it can write laws dictating how the FCC must act).

In-house, it wasn’t much better. This week Martin got kneecapped by fellow GOP commissioner Robert McDowell, who decided to keep himself recused from voting on the AT&T-BellSouth merger due to potential conflicts of interest with a former employer. And it wasn’t just that McDowell said he wouldn’t vote that raised eyebrows among FCC followers, but the tone of his language, calling the Martin-led effort to approve McDowell’s participation the legal equivalent of leaky fromage. To quote from McDowell’s statement:

In all candor, however, I had expected a memorandum making a strong and clear case for my participation. Instead, the Authorization Memo is hesitant, does not acknowledge crucial facts and analyses, and concludes by framing this matter as an ethical coin-toss frozen in mid-air. … while I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese.

Ouch! Guess it will be separate checks for lunch on the eighth floor… again.