Martin Returns to Must-Carry Issue

Apr 11, 2007  •  Post A Comment

As the country moves from analog to digital TV signals, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin is proposing the FCC do more to ensure that cable providers carry broadcasters’ digital and analog signals during the transition.

FCC and cable officials confirm Martin is circulating two proposals to other commissioners.

One would expand broadcasters’ “must carry” rights from the analog to the digital realm. Cable operators that haven’t yet given all of their subscribers digital set-top boxes could be required to carry both a broadcaster’s analog and main digital signals.

The second proposal would require cable providers to also carry a broadcaster’s multicast signal whenever the signal is one leased by a broadcaster to a qualified minority broadcaster.

The fight stems mainly from concerns that many cable systems won’t be ready when the country switches to digital TV on Feb. 17, 2009, and will have to offer both digital and analog signals to reach all viewers. Providing both sets of signals taxes cable bandwidth and could limit some channel choices.

Broadcasters want any choice to tilt toward cable providers carrying all of their signals. Cable providers contend they should be able to pick signals their viewers want most, which in some cases might mean one signal from a broadcaster and a cable channel, instead of two broadcaster signals.

Both proposals call for the FCC to issue rulemaking notices.

They have drawn the expected reaction from industry groups, with most of the reaction today concentrated on the must-carry suggestion.

The National Association of Broadcasters today praised Martin’s initiative as “a very positive proposal.” The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, already bitterly unhappy with Martin, ripped it.

“This plan appears to conclude that the digital TV transition can be solved by disenfranchising millions of customers by forcing them to rent a set-top box they may not want, and will in fact cost more because the commission has refused to repeal its $600 million-a-year set-top box tax that begins in July,” the NCTA said.

It said the right approach “to ensuring a seamless digital transition is a collaborative process that doesn’t reach premature conclusions that will jeopardize our efforts to assist cable’s 65 million customers.”

(Editor: Horowitz)