Total carriage plan draws fire

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Broadcasters’ new total carriage proposal may be twice as bad for cable as the broadcasting industry’s old dual-carriage plan.
“It could take away 12 to 14 cable services that people are already watching,” said Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, an organization that represents many of the nation’s smaller rural system operators.
Under the dual-carriage concept, NAB had been arguing long and hard that cable carriage of both analog and digital TV signals was vital to expediting the transition to DTV because the vast majority of consumers get their television from cable. The NAB TV board, apparently convinced it couldn’t win dual-carriage rules in the face of cable’s opposition, recently authorized the association to focus on total carriage, with leading broadcasters positioning it as a compromise.
But cable industry sources said the practical impact of total carriage could be to force cable operators to carry both the analog and digital channels of broadcasters to avoid disenfranchising subscribers who have yet to upgrade to digital.
In addition, operators fear the proposal could force them to fork over billions of dollars to equip subscribers with digital decoder boxes.
“There are 250 million analog sets out there,” said Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry’s major trade association. “Do they expect everyone to go out and buy a digital receiver, or do they expect everybody to go out and buy a $400 digital box?”
The new carriage concept also rubs cable the wrong way because the Federal Communications Commission’s current plan would require cable operators to carry only the broadcaster’s main digital TV signal. Total carriage would require operators to carry all 6 MHz of a broadcaster’s DTV signal, even if the broadcaster is using 1 MHz or less to transmit its main signal.
“For some reason, they [broadcasters] think they have the right that some other industry should give up its property to them,” said Steve Effros, a cable analyst and consultant.
Nonetheless, some broadcasters have also been expressing qualms about abandoning dual carriage. Bob Branson, Association for Local Television Stations VP and general counsel, said ALTV’s UPN and WB affiliate members are less likely than Big 4 affiliates to be able to negotiate voluntary digital carriage agreements with cable. So UPN and WB affiliates are more likely to benefit from a carriage rule than more powerful stations, he said.
NCTA representatives will brief lawmakers on cable’s view of total carriage during a closed-door session Wednesday in Washington.