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Martin’s Must-Carry Proposal Gives Juice to Broadcasters

Jun 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing a rule that would allow broadcasters to require cable operators to carry either the broadcaster’s digital TV or analog signal during the transition to DTV and then negotiate a retransmission consent deal covering the carriage of the other signal, sources said Thursday.

Such a move that would give broadcasters more negotiating power during the new round of retransmission consent elections that begin in October,

Under the FCC’s existing must-carry rules, broadcasters can’t demand carriage of their DTV signals until after they have returned their analog channels to the government and the transition to digital is complete. At least some in the cable TV industry are arguing that the proposed change could force them to carry both the analog and digital signals of broadcasters who demand digital carriage because many cable customers are not currently equipped to receive digital signals.

Industry and agency sources said the proposed change, which has been tentatively slated for a July 14 vote, would be of the most value to stations with programming demanded by cable subscribers but with lacking the clout to get carriage of their digital signals in a retransmission consent deal. There’s already sufficient demand for Big 4 TV network programming to generally ensure carriage of the analog and digital signals of their owned stations under retransmission consent deals, sources said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined comment on the plan. But in a June 29 letter to Mr. Martin, Harold Brown, president of Southern Entertainment Television, blasted the FCC chairman’s proposal.

“Instead of floating an idea about dual-carriage … you should be digging your heels in the sand, standing tall and fighting to getting the must-carry rule declared illegal,” Mr. Brown said.

The National Association of Broadcasters has endorsed the proposal, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said.