Questions arise over Martin's control

This Thursday in Washington, D.C., the new Democrat Congress will turn the heat up on the FCC when all of the commissioners are set to appear before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Democrat senators with responsibility over the FCC contend that genuine oversight is long overdue. They promise to press Chairman Kevin Martin and his four colleagues on a host of issues, including media ownership, diversity, Internet access, broadcast decency standards and long delays in resolving issues of public interest.

Though Martin, as Republican chairman of the agency, will take most of the heat, some FCC observers are questioning just how solid his commission majority is with the addition of Robert McDowell, the FCC's newest Republican member.

"The Washington Post," in a report last week about FCC politics, noted that Martin and McDowell have clashed on several significant issues in the past several months, creating what some see as a rift that could be ripe for exploitation by the Democrats.

The friction began the moment McDowell arrived last June at the FCC. Facing the controversial broadcast multichannel must-carry issue at the time, Martin expected McDowell to deliver the needed vote on his first days at the commission. McDowell refused to support the issue.

More recently, the two tangled on the $85 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth, which was approved by the FCC in December. Martin had sought McDowell's vote to break a long deadlock, but McDowell refused to vote, contending he had a conflict of interest.