FCC's Martin: Open Networks Becoming the Norm

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Martin's future

In the meantime, the commission only has one more meeting scheduled this year, and the agenda for that meeting -- or any going forward under Martin's stewardship -- remains uncertain.

With the government heading for a major upheaval on the eve of a new administration, Martin's future at the FCC is in doubt as speculation mounts that the Republican chairman will step down early next year.

Talking with reporters after his presentation on Tuesday, Martin noted that presidential transitions -- particularly from one party to another -- are a strange time in Washington. He recalled eight years ago, when Chairman William Kennard hung on after the election to resolve some lingering issues, but resigned on Jan. 19, 2001, one day before George Bush took the oath of office.

Asked about his own future, Martin demurred.

"I don't have any plans yet, and I'm still focused on getting as much done as we can," he said.

The major items remaining on his list are reforms to the FCC's intercarrier compensation rules and the Universal Service Fund (USF), a government subsidy for bringing phone service to underserved parts of the country.

Martin said he is interested in updating the fee structure that dictates how telecom providers compensate each other for communications that span multiple networks, and in including broadband in the USF. But he added that he is not optimistic that his fellow commissioners will be ready to vote on those issues by the Dec. 18 meeting.

Also up in the air is the FCC's plan to allocate a portion of the wireless spectrum, known as AWS-3, in a scheme to create a free, nationwide broadband network. That proposal, backed by Silicon Valley startup M2Z Networks, has encountered fierce opposition from T-Mobile and other wireless carriers that warn the new network could interfere with their customers' cellular and data services.

Martin said he's unsure other commissioners will be ready to move on that issue, either.

Looking forward, Martin's commission has its hands full with the transition from analog to digital television broadcasts, scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009.

The commission has been running a multi-pronged effort to ensure that the transition goes smoothly and that no Americans are caught by surprise when their analog TV reception is cut off. The FCC recently sent out letters of inquiry to cable providers around the country asking about the steps they were taking to prepare for the DTV transition.

Martin said that the responses of many of the providers were inadequate, particularly Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), which "didn't even answer the questions directly."

"Different operators provided different levels of information," he added, holding out the possibility of disciplinary action for those that didn't comply. "Companies that didn't provide sufficient answers would be subject to whatever the commission's enforcement actions are, just as they always are."

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