Abernathy Undecided on Multicast Must-Carry


Federal Communications Commission member Kathleen Abernathy said she is undecided on whether cable companies should carry all programming services generated by each digital-TV station.

Multicast must-carry -- a mandate the cable industry is fighting -- would require cable systems to carry five or six programming services that digital technology allows a single TV station to provide. The cable industry claimed that the law requires carriage of just one service.

“What we’ve go to decide at the commission is, `Do you get everything carried or not?’ and I’m still looking at it,” Abernathy told reporters in her office Thursday. “This is an issue that is very difficult for me.”

Abernathy said that if it were up to her, TV stations would get carriage for their primary signal, plus any programming services with local content.

“To the extent that you are producing new entertainment kinds of video streams, you go to the market just like everyone else and you compete in the market just like everyone else to see if the cable company will carry it,” she said.

But she quickly added that the law does not allow the FCC to allocate must-carry rights based on the content provided by TV stations.

“The statute does not give us that flexibility,” she said.

The FCC’s Media Bureau plans to recommend a cable multicast-carriage mandate for all digital-TV services that are provided free to over-the-air viewers. Subscription services would not be entitled to similar carriage rights. The new digital must-carry rights would take effect in 2009 after TV stations had surrendered their analog licenses.

Asked whether Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree was dangling multicast must-carry to broadcasters to induce their support for giving up their analog spectrum in about four years, Abernathy replied: “That may be the way he is looking at it. That’s not the way I’m looking at it.”

Legislation on the Senate floor this week contains a provision that would require the FCC to decide the multicasting-carriage issue by the end of the year.