Multicast Carriage Measure Not Included in Senate Panel Vote

Oct 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a blow to broadcasters, a spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee said Tuesday that legislation that could settle a fight between broadcasters and cable TV operators over multicast carriage rules and other important issues related to the digital TV transition will not go to a vote this week.

Instead, the committee’s session, moved from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, will focus on a bare-bones measure that proposes to set an April 7, 2009, deadline for the transition and addresses only congressional budgetary issues related to the transition.

Some broadcasters expect multicast carriage to be the benefit they receive in the legislative trade-off for supporting legislation that would force them to make the DTV switch in 2009. Many broadcasters originally appeared confident that multicast carriage’s momentum would be virtually unstoppable because it would be included in the same measure as the transition deadline. But several weeks ago it became clear that multicast would not be included in the measure containing the deadline, ostensibly because lawmakers first wanted to focus on DTV issues related solely to congressional budget concerns.

Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, announced recently that he planned to address a companion bill that would be moved at the same time as the deadline bill, and confirmed that the companion bill would be the vehicle that determined the fate of multicast carriage and other transition-related issues.

Sen. Stevens told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he hopes to have a draft of the companion bill ready for committee members Thursday. But with the companion bill not present on the committee’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting, industry concerns have been raised about its ultimate prospects.

Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said: “We knew the two bills would be split. We’re hopeful multicast will be dealt with in the companion bill as soon as Sen. Stevens deems possible.”

“[Broadcasters] are getting a hard date, and not these other things [multicast carriage rules and other DTV-related provisions that broadcasters want],” said a broadcast industry source.

The industry source warned that leading lawmakers are expected to float a variety of amendments unfriendly to the broadcast industry during the committee’s Thursday voting session, including one sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would set the DTV transition deadline as early as 2006. Other proposed amendments are expected to try to turn the Federal Communications Commission’s new children’s TV rules into law and to require broadcasters to provide free airtime for political candidates.

Also on the committee’s agenda is a vote on controversial legislation that would require federal agencies to clearly label their sponsorship of video news releases and bar broadcasters and cable operators from deleting the labels.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee said the April 7, 2009, DTV transition deadline was selected to avoid interfering with that year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.