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FCC's Martin Reflects on Wins, Losses

WASHINGTON -- If government regulators often walk a fine line, then you might argue that Kevin Martin walked an especially thin tightrope during his time overseeing the Federal Communications Commission.

Looking back on his tenure as chairman, Martin described his role as a regulator striking a balance between allowing markets to function without government interference, and enacting targeted regulations when those markets fail.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here, Martin ticked off what he considers his major achievements, including enacting policies to encourage broadband deployment. Martin, still facing fire by Democrats over his management style, offered up some advice for his successor. First, be willing to be unpopular, he said, and don't be afraid to make calls as you see them.

"The recent financial crisis has reminded us that the failure to act or regulate when we do identify a problem may actually lead to worse problems and the need for greater and larger government intervention in the future," he said.

Martin made his address today as the FCC prepares for a new administration, new Congress, and a new technology agenda. President-elect Obama has yet to name a new chairman, but he is expected to call on the agency to implement policies to spur broadband deployment and enforce network neutrality.

Martin has had a controversial tenure at the FCC. As his chairmanship draws to a close, he has come under fire from lawmakers and watchdog groups for running the agency in what they describe as a secretive and almost autocratic manner.

In his remarks today, Martin conceded that his policies have not always been popular. He said he has voted with the commission's two Democrats as often as he has been aligned with his fellow Republicans. Martin said that at one point or another, he has made decisions unpopular with each of the industries the agency regulates. But, he added, that's the price of doing business inside the Beltway.

"In Washington, no one remembers when you agree with them, but no one forgets whenever you disagree."

In general, Martin said he favored a hands-off approach, reserving regulation for isolated instances when a market failed to uphold the interest of consumers.

"I've approached our decisions with a fundamental belief that a robust competitive marketplace, not regulation, is ultimately the best protector for the public interest," he said. "Government, however, still has an important and critical role to play. We need to create a regulatory environment that promotes investment and competition."

As an example of consumer-friendly policies, Martin pointed to the 700 MHz spectrum auction the agency held last March.

Bowing to pressure from Google and other groups that advocate open-access networks, Martin attached a provision to the most valuable piece of spectrum in the auction requiring the winning bidder to make the resulting network interoperable with all types of devices and applications.

Verizon Wireless, which ended up winning the so-called "C block," had sued to overturn the openness condition, but dropped its lawsuit before the bidding began.

Martin, who has previously touted the industry's voluntary move toward open networks, said that the openness requirement in the 700 MHz auction helped set the process in motion.

"The impact of this targeted regulatory action was far-reaching," he said. "Shortly after the FCC acted, others in the wireless industry, including Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T, all announced plans to adopt a more open approach."

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