Washington Notes: Barton Optimistic About Digital Switch

Mar 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, said last week he thinks he has the votes needed in the House to pass legislation that would require broadcasters to return their analog channels to the government and make the switch to digital no later than Dec. 31, 2006.

But Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told broadcasters he’s not sold on the proposal. “There is a lot to be answered before that question is decided,” He said at a seminar sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters last week in Washington. Sen. Stevens is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“We can’t be that heavy-handed,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., of Rep. Barton’s plan. “It won’t work.”

Also at the NAB seminar, Sen. Reid cast serious doubts on the prospects for a recent White House legislative proposal that would require TV stations to start paying annual spectrum fees if they don’t switch to digital and return their analog channels to the government by 2007.

Stevens Backs DTV Carriage Requirement

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, last week said he would support a requirement that cable TV operators carry a main signal-and all of the other programming streams broadcasters offer on DTV channels that focus on full-time public service commitments such as news or weather information.

In a blow to broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission recently rejected a National Association of Broadcasters proposal that would have required cable operators to carry all of broadcasters’ DTV programming streams. As it stands, cable operators would have to carry only a broadcaster’s main programming stream.

MSOs Blame Retransmission Rule for Rate Hikes

A coalition of major cable multiple system operators told the Federal Communications Commission last week that a key culprit responsible for cable rate increases is the retransmission consent rule that has given the Big 4 TV networks the bargaining power needed to create dozens of new cable networks in recent years.

In a filing at the FCC, the coalition-made up of Advance/ Newhouse Communications, Cox Communications and Insight Communications-said the Big 4 used retransmission consent to become dominant programmers in cable, now controlling 56.5 percent of national cable networks.

“Higher prices for the expanded basic tier are being driven by the addition of new channels to that tier, and programming networks affiliated with the Big 4 represent the overwhelming share of such channels,” the cable operators said in the filing. “Thus, there is substantial evidence that the exercise of retransmission consent by the Big 4 has been a principal driver of cable rate increases and … the size of the expanded basic tier.”