FCC Chairman Accused of Abusing Power

House Democrats issue a report accusing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin of egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data. Among the charges: burying engineering reports that said broadband over power lines wasn't ready for prime time and reversing a decision that found Verizon guilty of violating Customer Propriety Network Information rules.

U.S. House Democrats released the results of their yearlong investigation of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin's handling of the agency. Although the report found Martin guilty of the "most egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data," the probe stopped short of accusing Martin of breaking any laws.

The report-Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin-was prompted by allegations that Martin manipulated or suppressed information to foster his own agenda, particularly his interest in forcing cable companies to offer a la carte programming.

The investigation also found that Martin hasn't handled FCC affairs in an open and transparent manner and accuses Martin of creating a climate of distrust, suspicion and turmoil among the five members of the FCC.

In addition, the report found Martin ignored complaints of radio frequency interference caused by BPL (broadband over power lines) and reversed an FCC Enforcement Bureau conclusion that Verizon was guilty of violating Customer Propriety Network Information rules.

"Our investigation confirmed a number of troubling allegations raised by individuals in and outside the FCC," Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a statement. "The Committee staff report details some of the most egregious abuses of power, suppression of information and manipulation of data under Chairman Martin's leadership."

Robert Kenney, an FCC spokesman, promptly downplayed the investigation.

"It appears that the [House Energy and Commerce] Committee did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures following a yearlong investigation," Kenney said. "Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC chairmen, Democrat and Republican alike."

In October 2004, the FCC issued a final decision authorizing the operation of BPL and set rules to protect licensed incumbents operating near power lines. However, as a court case later revealed, the FCC also withheld engineering reports about potential interference problems.

In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, said the FCC played "hide and seek" with the engineering data supporting the BPL order and that the agency "cherry-picked" its data. While advances in BPL technology eventually made the whole issue moot, the Democrats noted that the fact that the "FCC withheld the required engineering reports in this matter indicates poor judgment and an attempt to hide critical weaknesses in its decision."

"Any of these findings, individually, are cause for concern," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Together, the findings suggest that, in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and commission business has suffered as a result. It is my hope that the new FCC chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the commission avoid making the same mistakes."