Free Political Spots in Play in Multicast Wrangling

Aug 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Legislation requiring cable TV operators to carry all of the free TV signals that broadcasters multicast on their new digital TV channels could clear the way for an agreement under which broadcasters would provide free air time for political candidates.

That is one of the public-interest obligations that broadcasters would consider swapping for a multicast must-carry rule, said Eddie Fritts, National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO, during a press briefing Wednesday.

“We’ve indicated everything is on the table,” Mr. Fritts said. Also during his briefing, Mr. Fritts said that Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have agreed to lead the charge for a multicast carriage requirement in the Senate. In addition, Mr. Fritts said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has made clear that while he opposes a carriage requirement, broadcasters should feel free to lobby other representatives for a House amendment that would require multicast carriage. “We’re going after them [the House votes],” Mr. Fritts said.

Mr. Fritts said he expects the cable TV industry to try to persuade the courts to kill any multicast must-carry rule. But in the wake of a major NAB lobbying campaign over the past two months, Mr. Fritts predicted that multicast carriage will become law. “In my view, multicasting will be a way of life,” he said.

The multicast issue is on NAB’s front burner because lawmakers are expected to approve DTV legislation that could determine the legislative fate of multicast carriage, along with such other major issues as the date for the digital transition, shortly after they return from their summer recess next week.

Mr. Fritts originally proposed to swap quantified public-interest obligations for multicast carriage during a Senate hearing in July.