Sen. Stevens: Multicast Carriage Requirement Should Be Decided by Congress

Jun 7, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said Wednesday he believes Congress, not the Federal Communications Commission, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding whether cable TV operators should be required to carry all of the programming streams from digital broadcast channels.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has circulated a proposal at the agency that would create a “multicast carriage requirement”-and the proposed rules have been scheduled for an agency vote as soon as next week.

“I would hope if it’s going to be done, it will be done by Congress, not by the FCC,” Sen. Stevens told reporters after speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in Washington.

“It’s too easy to change the FCC,” the senator said.

In a June 7 letter to Mr. Martin, Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., also stated strong opposition to an agency multicast carriage rule, contending that FCC action would “usurp congressional authority.”

“Allowing each broadcaster to force video distributors to carry multiple streams of the broadcaster’s programming rather than letting consumer preferences and market forces operate is contrary to the market-oriented philosophy that has guided communications policy during the Bush administration,” the congressmen said in the letter.

If the lawmakers derail the FCC initiative, it would come as a victory for the cable TV industry, which opposes a multicast-carriage obligation.

Broadcasters have been lobbying vigorously for multicast carriage regulation to ensure that all of their digital programming streams are available to cable’s subscribers.

Spokespersons for the FCC and NCTA declined comment.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said NAB was encouraged by reports that Mr. Martin “supports revisiting an issue that, if adopted, will bring more program choice to cable customers.”

“It is NAB’s long-standing position that DTV multicasting rules will result in an explosion in programming choices, including public interest programming that has long been the hallmark of local broadcasting,” Mr. Wharton said.