Must-carry Won’t-Happen: Newbie FCC Member Says “No” to Martin

by on June 20, 2006 · 12 comments

FCC Chairman Martin’s push to impose “multicast” must-carry rules on cable providers looked like a done deal only a few days ago. Martin had made the the new mandate a priority, and with two new Republican members of the commission sworn in, its looked like Martin would certainly be able to get a majority to support him. He had even scheduled a vote for Wednesday, usually a sure sign that the votes were in the bag.

As it turned out, however, the bag was empty. The reason: Robert McDowell, who joined the commission only three weeks ago, said “no.” According to National Journal, sources said that McDowell “sees much benefit from the cable industry voluntarily agreeing to carry broadcasters’ multicasts and prefers a private sector solution.” Moreover, he was said to be unsure of the legality of the proposed regulation. Since the two Democrats apparently also opposed the move, that left Martin without a majority.

Hooray for the new guy. Forcing cable companies to carry multiple TV signals from each broadcaster over their systems is a bad idea. First, consumers would be worse off, since these channels would displace other channels consumers presumably prefer. (Note that cable firms actually pay broadcasters for the right to carry channels that are popular. By definition, we are talking about the unpopular ones here).

Moreover, the rules would violate the constitution. By actual count, multi-cast must-carry likely violates two amendments–the fifth amendment (taking of property) and the first (free speech). Do the math. That’s 20 percent of the bill of rights. Pretty good for one regulation. They might as well add in something about quartering troops and go for a trifecta.

Commissioner McDowell, you were right to block this. Welcome to the FCC, by the way. Glad to have you aboard.

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