Cable has space for both analog and digital

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

A study released by a coalition of broadcast industry groups last week contends that cable operators will have ample capacity to carry the analog and digital signals of TV stations during the DTV transition.
The cable industry has long maintained that requiring operators to carry both broadcast signals would run afoul of the First Amendment principles by forcing them to slash cable fare.
But in a study filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Association of Local Television Stations and the Association for Maximum Service Television said channel-capacity data the cable industry has filed at the agency disproves cable’s contention.
“The rapid and widespread deployment of large-capacity digital cable systems ensures that cable operators will not be prevented from carrying any programming of their choice,” the broadcasters said.
NAB said cable data on file at the FCC demonstrate that in 2003, the average cable subscriber will have 725.2 MHz of cable bandwidth, with anywhere from 261.8 to 295.7 program services, in addition to channels for nonvideo services.
The study also said that, due to cable industry upgrades, operators would devote less channel capacity (8.43 percent) to carrying both the digital and analog signals on their systems in 2003 than they did to carrying only the analog signals (13.42 percent) in 1993.
The NAB also said that since DTV carriage won’t have an impact on cable programming, the MSOs’ First Amendment arguments against the so-called dual-carriage don’t hold water.
“To the extent that cable now argues that capacity is limited because it is devoted to nonspeech services such as Internet or telephony, that represents a business choice of cable operators,” NAB continued. “Cable’s own allocation decisions cannot be used to support a First Amendment claim.”
In its own filing with the FCC, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said market-based agreements between operators and broadcasters are the better way to go.
“Any of the finite bandwidth conscripted for the broadcasters comes at the expense of other services,” NCTA said. “The business plans of operators, programmers and other service providers-and ultimately the needs, interests and demands of consumers-will be thwarted, whether the effect of dual must-carry is to force operators to drop existing services or to curtail the development and offering of exciting new services that can only be offered over upgraded, high-capacity systems.”
NAB is also apparently still working on a backup plan under which cable operators would not be required to carry the analog signal during the transition as long as they carry all of the information on the digital signal and ensure that all cable subscribers have the capacity to receive it.
“The board asked us to look at options, and we’re doing that,” said an NAB source.