(Adds Republican comment, example from report)
By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A group of congressional Democrats blasted the chief U.S. communications regulator for his opaque and unpredictable management on Tuesday citing a report they hope will spark reform of the Federal Communications Commission.
The investigation into the FCC and chairman Kevin Martin’s leadership came partly in response to complaints about the agency from the public and from communications industry professionals, according to the lawmakers.
The report by House Energy and Commerce Committee majority staff cites several instances where Martin “manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports and information,” particularly in his attempts for tougher cable regulation, an issue Martin has pursued with vigor.
“Martin’s legacy is he left us a blueprint of how not to run an agency,” said Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who heads the panel’s investigative subcommittee.
Republicans refused to sign the report, with a spokesman saying the report lacked substance. “A congressional investigation has established that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t play well with others,” said Larry Neal, deputy Republican staff director on the committee.
Many FCC watchers agreed the agency has been inconsistent under Martin, but most said opaqueness at the agency precedes him and has been exacerbated by what the report called his “non-collegial” style.
“While there are some troubling allegations in the report, most of what it describes resembles the way the FCC has been run for a very long time,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project. With a new Congress and administration coming in January, “it’s an appropriate time to make the FCC more transparent.”
Martin spokesman Robert Kenny noted the panel did not find any legal or procedural violations, and mocked one of the findings: that the FCC overpaid for services for the deaf.
“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 report cited an instance where Martin intervened to lower a fine on T-Mobile from $1.3 million to $100,000, for the company’s violation of the government’s Do-Not-Call list.
The report said T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE), got news through an agency leak of the proposed fine when it was still in draft form, enabling the company to negotiate a better deal and escape review by the full Commission.
The report doesn’t make allegations against the company itself.
Several agency observers, who requested anonymity, said the report seeks to vindicate the cable industry, which has been subject to extreme pressure under Martin.
Martin spearheaded a move to impose a limit on the size of cable companies, and has tried to force them to sell channels individually to customers, rather than in packages, two policies opposed by industry.
The Obama administration is still mulling candidates for FCC chairman, but by early next year the Democrats will have the majority on the five-member Commission.
Three of the five commissioners at the agency, including Martin, are now Republican. The other two are Democrats.
Critics say Martin has abused his power by giving the four other commissioners little time to review complex items before the agency and by refusing to publish the text of rules sufficiently in advance of meetings.
In recent months, the four other commissioners have joined together to oppose some items backed by Martin, including intercarrier compensation rules which govern how phone companies pay each other to route traffic.
“There is no question that Kevin Martin’s personal style has contributed to his problems.” Schwartzman said.
Stupak said Martin, who has been FCC chairman since 2005, has stifled investment in the telecommunications sector because of his erratic management style.
A Stifel Nicolaus analyst said that was a hard claim to prove, citing billions spent on the build-out of fiber infrastructure and spectrum auctions. (Editing by Tim Dobbyn)