Say Hello to the New Chair, Same as the Old Chair

So, by now, if you follow communications news at all, you’ve probably heard that Kevin Martin is the new chair of the FCC. I’m on vacation at the moment, so I couldn’t be right on top of it.

After thinking about a potential Martin chairship for a couple of months now, I can summarize my basic reaction in some bullet points:

  • This is no surprise. Bush likes Martin, and I think he feels a little stung by Powell’s bull-in-a-china-shop strategery. Martin is better at playing DC Republican politics.
  • Martin is more of a telecomm-head than a media-head, but he generally favors deregulation, even if he occasionally differed with Powell on telecomm issues.
  • Martin did vote “yes” on the media deregulation package of 2003, which is now back in the FCC’s lap. One small hope is that he will be more open to public hearings and input than Powell was (much to his own ruin). Because he spouts less “free-market” ideology we might expect him to be more pragmatic. But these are small hopes.
  • Martin’s got a hard-on for indecency regulation, and appears to want to extend it to cable and satellite. This is bad, and makes Powell look downright moderate on the issue — ol’ Mikey said last month that he does not favor enforcing indecency on cable and satellite, and that doing so is unconstitutional. For once, I think Mikey is right.
  • Martin may push indecency regs on cable and satellite even if there is a strong likelihood of it being struck down by the courts. If he’s pandering to the Christian right, then he won’t lose even if he loses in court, and that might give him cover for other deregulatory moves that may be less popular. (Remember, the NRA and many other conservative groups were against the FCC’s loosened ownership regs.)

    The “values” crowd often cares more about effort and show than effects — they’ll give Martin an A for effort even if it gets struck down. Whereas, the broadcast and telecomm industries are less sanguine about effort — they want results, and if you fail, then it’s because your strategy failed, not just because the court is against you.

So, in summary, Martin may have a little more political savvy and conservative “values” cred than Powell, but their respective agendas are not that far apart. Without a doubt, Martin is no friend to the public interest when it comes to issues of ownership or consumer’s rights. He is no Michael Copps or Johnathan Adelstein.

If the technique is a little more refined, the results can still be the same. This is still the Bush administration after all.