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FCC Chair Pushes For Reform In Video, USF

By Paul Kapustka

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- For a guy who's about to become a father for the first time, Kevin Martin has an ambitious schedule for the near-term future, filling his agency's plate with reform ideas for video franchising and universal service contributions.

In a speech made Wednesday via video link to attendees here at the USTA Telecom '05 show, the FCC chairman championed both a national plan for obtaining video service franchises, as well as a new method for determining contributions to the USF, which is primarily used to subsidize rural and low-income area telecom providers.

The national plan for obtaining video franchises -- the licenses necessary to provide TV services -- was welcome news to the show's main consitituency of telecom service providers, who would prefer not to negotiate city-by-city to compete with the established cable TV players. Martin, appearing via a satellite connection (perhaps on the advice of his wife, Martin scrubbed a planned live appearance due to the impending delivery the couple's first child), said he had heard tales of telcos facing resistance in obtaining franchises, and said "new video entrants should be encouraged, not impeded from entry."

While full details of Martin's plans may not be known for some time, the chairman did say that the video franchising question would be up for discussion at the FCC's open meeting on Nov. 3. However, some industry observers questioned whether the FCC has the legal authority to intervene in the video-franchising arena, and said Martin's notice of proposed rulemaking may be just a "bully pulpit" move in an area where real rulemaking will be made by Congress, which is also actively discussing video franchising reform.

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