Hard decisions haven't slowed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

Battleground: Cable

Nowhere is Martin's doggedness more apparent than in cable.

Cable was largely deregulated by Congress in 1992, leaving the FCC with little authority. Martin says that's no reason to turn a blind eye to the plight of U.S. consumers, who have seen their monthly cable TV rates more than double over the past decade.

"The extraordinary increase in cable rates … is the biggest single problem consumers are facing today," he says, underscoring his passion for the subject.

Under Martin, the FCC adopted a crush of rules aimed at stimulating competition with cable operators in hopes of reducing cable bills. The FCC chief also chided operators for not offering "à la carte" as a programming option.

At the request of cable company Cablevision, Martin recently launched an investigation of "tying" — the practice where big programmers routinely require cable operators to buy a suite of channels even though they may only want one, such as ESPN.

Tying is one reason expanded basic cable TV service keeps getting more expensive.

Charles Dolan, founder and chairman of Cablevision, which also owns Madison Square Garden and professional sports teams, says he admires Martin's willingness "to take on industry moguls" like that.

"He's not in there to do anybody's bidding," Dolan says. "He's in there to do what's right for the agency and the public, and he's very bold about it."

Depending on the outcome of the tying probe — if the incoming FCC chief decides to pursue it — new rules could be adopted to make it easier for cable operators to offer à la carte programming. At least that's what Martin is hoping.

Asked for words of advice for his successor, Martin quickly circles back to where he started.

"As a regulator, you can't protect individual companies or industries," he says. "It's not about who wins. It's about coming up with the right idea for consumers."

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