FCC Cancels Vote on Cable-Broadcast Digital Fight

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a surprise about-face, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin canceled an agency vote planned for this week on whether cable companies will be forced to carry digital signals from local television broadcasters.

In a Sunday night press release, the FCC said it was pulling a vote on a proposal from the agenda of Wednesday’s FCC meeting. The agency put out the news release after 6 p.m. Sunday, when the FCC rarely issues statements.

“There did not appear to be consensus for moving forward at this time,” said FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper.

The canceled vote signals Mr. Martin, a Republican, is having difficulty persuading some commissioners that cable companies should be forced to carry all the digital signals that local broadcasters will air when they make the transition from analog to digital transmissions.

Mr. Martin kept a vote on media ownership rules on the agenda for the Wednesday meeting. His cancellation of the so-called multicasting vote marked a win for cable companies.

“We’re pleased the commission has reconsidered its intention to impose multicast must-carry rules,” National Cable & Television Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow said in a statement. “We believe multicasting mandates are harmful to consumers. And we believe that marketplace and consumer demand-not the government-should determine what programming services are carried.”

It’s the second time Mr. Martin, who gained a 3-2 Republican majority on the FCC this month, has delayed a vote on the issue. He had been expected at the Wednesday meeting to reverse earlier FCC votes against placing the multicast requirement on broadcasters.

The digital signal issue is an outgrowth of some of the changes coming with the digital television transition, which allows broadcasters to choose between airing a single high-definition signal or multicasting several lower-quality digital signals.

Broadcasters want cable companies to carry the extra channels, while cable companies, with limited bandwidth, want to be able to choices which channels to carry.

The FCC originally was to consider the requirement last week, but delayed the meeting a week.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which has pushed to require cable companies to carry local stations’ digital signals, said it would continue to lobby for new multicast rules. “We appreciate FCC Chairman Martin’s steadfast support for more program choice, and we will continue to educate policymakers on the pro-consumer benefits of multicasting,” Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said in a statement.