Martin May Consider Retransmission Rule

May 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin delivered good news to networks and affiliates at the National Association of Broadcasters convention last week. Those same tidings may dishearten cable providers fighting to keep control of their channel listings.

Mr. Martin told reporters he would be willing to consider a rule requiring cable operators to carry all programming streams from digital broadcast TV channels if he’s confident he can win the support of a majority of the FCC’s commissioners.

“I think it’s in the public’s interest to be able to broadcast in multicast and have all these free over-the-air signals carried by the cable industry,” Mr. Martin said.

The FCC under former Chairman Michael Powell last year rejected a proposal that would have forced cable providers to carry the digital channels. Mr. Martin was the sole dissenter in the vote. Two of the commissioners who voted against the rule at the time-Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein-are still at the agency.

Since the 2005 vote one new commissioner, Republican Deborah Taylor Tate, has joined the FCC. Robert McDowell has been nominated to a third GOP agency seat, offering the possibility of a 3-2 majority for Mr. Martin on the issue.

The 2005 vote against requiring cable companies to carry the broadcasters’ digital signals represented a “missed opportunity,” Mr. Martin said in a breakfast speech at NAB last week.

NAB CEO David Rehr said last week that NAB is confident cable companies will have to pay broadcasters.

“Satellite and telephone companies already recognize that they must compensate broadcasters [for retransmitting broadcast TV signals],” Mr. Rehr said. “Eventually, so must cable, especially as its own competitive position weakens. Frankly, it is only a matter of time.”