Congressional Report Flames FCC Chairman

A 110-page congressional report issued today takes current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to task for allegedly suppressing and manipulating public records, not carrying out some of the jobs allocated to the FCC and generally being, well, a jerk (his “heavy-handed, opaque and non-collegial management style has created distrust, suspicion and turmoil”). The report, entitled “Deception and Distrust: The FCC Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin,” was written by the majority staff of the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives. And while it contains all of the inflammatory rhetoric that one expects from a political attack, some of its allegations are genuinely troubling.

One is that the FCC overcompensated carriers by some $100 million a year for providing the Telecommunications Relay Service, which allows disabled people to hook assistive devices such as TTYs  into the telephone network. Another involves Martin reversing the findings of a report on à la carte cable issued by previous FCC chairman Michael Powell. The report, which was put out in November 2004, determined that letting consumers choose their own cable channels on an à la carte basis would not ultimately benefit them. In March 2005, after becoming FCC chair, Martin ordered that the report be rewritten — and its conclusion was subsequently reversed. The congressional report alleges that Martin micromanaged the writing of subsequent cable reports to quash dissenting opinions.

The list continues, with allegations including those that the FCC held up the Liberty/DirectTV transaction approval until the White House had access to local television channels through its DirectTV (s dtv) satellite service. Sadly the report’s findings don’t seem all that unfamiliar or egregious given the policies of the outgoing administration, but it is notably weak on substantiation. In other words, we need more proof — something that’s likely to fall through the cracks after Martin departs.