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FCC sets its sights on ‘total carriage’

Aug 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a new regulation that would require cable operators that carry a broadcaster’s DTV signal to carry virtually all the free programming offered over the channel, sources said.
Under the agency’s existing rule, cable operators that carry a broadcaster’s DTV signal are required to carry only the station’s primary video signal-their main free broadcast signal and related programming content. The proposal could require cable operators to carry up to five or six channels from broadcasters that opt to multiplex, carving up their 6 megahertz of digital spectrum to offer viewers multiple streams of programming.
Sources said the proposed regulation, which is expected to be voted on as soon as the agency’s Sept. 12 meeting, would not require cable operators to carry any pay services. At deadline, sources also said it was unclear whether a majority of the commissioners would be prepared to vote to establish a new rule at the meeting or would first seek additional comment from the public on the concept, a move that could postpone resolution of the issue indefinitely.
The National Association of Broadcasters has long urged the FCC to adopt regulations that would require cable operators to carry the digital and analog signals of broadcasters during the transition to the new technology.
But sources said the FCC is expected to stick to a tentative decision it released in January 2001, holding that such a dual-carriage obligation would run afoul of cable’s First Amendment rights.
Existing regulations already require cable operators to carry the analog signals of broadcasters.
NAB has argued that a dual-carriage obligation is needed to help expedite the transition to the new technology. The cable TV industry has fought dual carriage, in part on the argument that an expanded obligation could force many systems to delete cable programming to make room for the new signals.
The compromise, the so-called “total carriage” concept, was originally floated by leading broadcasters who were concerned that dual carriage could not pass muster at the agency.
A spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined comment on the FCC plan. But one cable TV industry source said the rule could hurt the cable industry.
Said a broadcast industry source, “We’re encouraged [the FCC] will take favorable action on the carriage issues.”
In a recent letter to Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he plans to resolve the carriage issues “in the near future,” with no mention of seeking additional comment through further rule-making proceedings.
“The order I plan to present to the commission will address issues related to the carriage of both analog and digital television broadcast signals during the transition, and the carriage rights of multiple digital programming streams delivered over a single 6 MHz channel,” Mr. Powell said.
He also said the agency will soon take steps to ensure that consumers who hook up new TV sets to cable can receive DTV signals without set-top boxes.