Chairman Kevin Martin tenure at the FCC is going to be hazardous to the health of our democracy. Yesterday, Martin spoke at the telephone monopolist’s lovefest called TelecomNext. At the event, Martin signaled that he was going to permit the nation’s largest cable and phone companies to have greater control over the future of broadband communications in the U.S. Martin said that the country would “need to have a regulatory environment that allows companies to invest in their networks.” What that really means is that Martin has bought the lobbying line of the cable and telco giants that they have to create a “monetized” approach when providing the public broadband. That will be an online regime where there’s a fast Internet lane run by a Comcast or an AT&T, along with lots of digital toolbooths for both users and content providers. Martin’s distain for the public interest was evident this week when he granted Verizon’s request that it be exempted from the few remaining broadband safeguards on the FCC’s books. Now Verizon–and soon AT&T and others–will be able to ignore concerns over fair competition, consumer privacy, discriminatory treatment, and equitable access (universal service).
Martin also plans to soon push for further media ownership deregulation. Expect few owners of our most powerful media outlets both locally and nationally. Like his predecessor Michael Powell, Martin will largely ignore the facts, including the linkages between consolidation and the current crisis roiling our journalistic institutions. Martin has also helped fan the flames of censorship–and aided the political agenda of the White House–by offering “red state meat” in the form of fines on so-called indecent programming.
Martin’s siding with the “big boys and girls” of the digital media world isn’t surprising. Nor his allegiance to the Bush White House. But it does reveal a flaw. Many people have suggested that Mr. Martin is the opposite of former FCC chair Michael Powell. Martin is soft-spoken and is more unassuming than Powell. But Martin’s approach to policy suggests that–like Powell–he is out of touch with the needs of the public. Martin believes his worldview (and that of his political allies) trumps everyone elses. Like Mr. Powell, Mr. Martin will have to be sent packing—-off to a pricey, but undistinguished private sector career in communications.