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Mandatory dual must-carry is `a lost cause’

Jun 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Calling for a time-out in its longtime campaign to force cable operators to carry the analog and digital signals of television stations, the National Association of Broadcasters last week said it is searching for a new game plan.
An NAB spokesman declined to comment on the announcement, which was released in a statement from NAB’s TV board.
But industry sources said the change in direction was prompted by the realization that the uncompromising position the association has been trying to promote was doomed.
“They [the NAB TV board] concluded it’s a lost cause,” said one industry source close to the issue. “We’ve got to try a new approach.”
But another source said it would be wrong to conclude that the NAB has thrown in the towel on dual carriage altogether.
“It’s just an acknowledgement that we haven’t gotten the reception we would like,” this source said. “We’re not conceding that must-carry isn’t important to the DTV transition. It absolutely is. But we’re prepared to explore whatever it takes to get this transition moving.”
Under the NAB’s longtime approach, the association has been insisting that the Federal Communications Commission require cable operators to carry both the analog and digital signals of broadcasters during the transition to the new technology, period.
That plan has been vehemently opposed by the cable industry, and top FCC officials have made clear their doubts about its constitutionality.
The new marching orders from the NAB’s TV board give the association staff flexibility to explore a variety of new possibilities over carriage and other sticky DTV issues, including ways to encourage the production of better digital TV sets.
“NAB was instructed to pursue new and innovative ideas with industry partners and government leaders to break a public policy logjam over issues such as cable carriage, DTV tuners and interoperability that has resulted in viewers being denied access to over-the-air DTV signals,” the NAB TV board’s statement said.
The TV board’s statement also encouraged all content providers to “dramatically” increase production of DTV programming, in high-definition, interactive and multichannel formats.
In addition, the NAB TV board said it had OK’d a “multimillion-dollar” marketing campaign to promote DTV, partly through on-air spots.
Said David Beckwith, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association: “If this means they’re shifting their focus from trying to obtain an unconstitutional leg-up from government to producing more quality programming that peopl want to watch, then it’s a welcome development.”