House Report Blasts Martin

Among other nuggets: an e-mail conversation that shows a Martin operative repeatedly working to suppress findings in a report about a la carte cable pricing.

A new report from the House Commerce Committee blasts FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for rigging commission analyses, hiding information and generally failing to run a fair and transparent agency. But the chairman, whose future after the Obama inauguration also remains opaque, did not directly address any of the charges laid out in a 110-page report (including exhibits) by the committee Tuesday.

The report, “Deception and Distrust: The FCC Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin,” written by Democratic staff on the committee, describes a commission where Martin manipulated and withheld data from other commissioners, trampled on transparency, bungled up to $100 million in Telecommunications Relay Service Fund, ran the agency “with a heavy-handed, opaque and non-collegial management style [that] has created distrust, suspicion and turmoil” among the commissioners, and restricted their access to FCC staff.

Twenty minutes after the committee released the report, an FCC spokesman declared his boss cleared—even victimized—and played the old everybody-does-it card.

“It appears that the Committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a year-long investigation,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC Chairmen, both Democratic and Republican alike.

“We went to extraordinary lengths to cooperate with the investigation,” the statement continued. “In total, more than 600 Commission employees spent 11,620 hours complying with the Committee’s request for information. The Commission provided committee staff with more than 9,000 emails and approximately 75 boxes containing nearly 170,000 pages of documents, and after producing this information, the Committee did not find that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures.”

It did not directly address any of the allegations in the report, and Martin and several senior staffers refused to be interviewed by committee staff preparing the report.

Among other nuggets: an e-mail conversation that shows a Martin operative repeatedly working to suppress findings in a report about a la carte cable pricing, one of Martin’s flagship policy goals.

According to the committee report, Martin, within weeks of becoming Chairman in March 2005, gave the chief of the Media Bureau 10 days to write a report reversing a previous report that found a la carte cable pricing would not have the benefits touted by Martin.

“Apparently frustrated with the lack of progress... Martin reassigned the project to other staff and demoted the long-time leader of the Media Bureau, who was relegated to an obscure position and ultimately left the commission,” the report said.

Still, according to the report, Martin had a tough time finding a staffer to write the report with the conclusions he demanded.

On July 8, 2005, Catherine Bohigian, Martin’s senior legal counsel, wrote the author of the new report-in-progress, unhappy with one observation.

“Daniel, I’m concerned about point 3,” she wrote. “Regardless of what the first report lacks or assumes incorrectly, the conclusion of this report is supposed to be that a la carte could be cheaper for the consumers.”

The author resisted, and two minutes later Bohigian followed up.

“Daniel, the report cannot conclude that a la carte would likely raise most cable bills, with fewer channels delivered. If that is going to be the conclusion, we need to stop now.”

The Commerce Committee report is available here.

Update: The commission issued another statement about an hour after its first one, defending the TRS Fund actions and the a la carte campaign:

"After a year of investigation, the Committee’s primary criticism of the Chairman is that he spent too much money to ensure that deaf Americans have equal access to communications services. The Commission provided the Committee with hundreds of emails from deaf and disabled Americans who wrote that they were appalled to learn that the FCC staff [was] intent on drastically cutting the Video Relay Service (VRS) rate and effectively cutting VRS availability for the deaf. Disability rights groups were also opposed to proposals to cut funding for the VRS program.

"The other major criticism of Chairman Martin is that he believes cable rates are too high and that he has sought to enhance choice and competition in the market for video services. With cable rates having doubled over the last decade, he will continue advocate on behalf of the millions of cable subscribers.

"The Chairman makes no apologies for his commitment to serving deaf and disabled Americans and for fighting to lower exorbitantly high cable rates that consumers are forced to pay."