ACA, PBS Eye Carriage Guidelines

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San Diego -- The American Cable Association is talking with PBS TV stations about forging an agreement setting guidelines for smaller operators to carry public stations and their digital-multicast signals, officials for the lobbying group said Monday.

The agreement being discussed -- which individual ACA members could decide whether or not to participate in -- would be similar to the pact the National Cable & Telecommunications Association reached earlier this year with the Association of Public Television Stations, ACA president Matt Polka said at the group’s annual meeting here.

“It would not be binding on you or on the membership,” Polka said, “but we are doing this on your behalf. This would clearly set forth terms of carriage of PBS signals, if you choose to do that in the marketplace.”

The ACA has been in talks with the PBS stations since May, and it hopes to have a draft of the proposed agreement done by October, in time for the group’s fourth-quarter board meeting, according to Polka.

If the agreement gets an OK there, it would then be considered for ratification by the ACA’s membership, he added.

“The reason for considering such an agreement is political in nature,” Polka said. “It’s a way to show that as we have said, where broadcasters and communities are providing compelling local programming -- either on their primary digital signal or multicasting programming -- cable operators are interested and would want to carry that, would want to provide that valuable local programming to their customers. PBS has shown, unlike the commercial broadcasters, that they do have compelling programming.”

In its negotiations with the public stations, the ACA is trying to set forth “triggers” for carriage of PBS programming that would take into account the size and capacity of the smaller independent systems that make up the lobbying group, Polka said.

“There would be very specific triggers concerning carriage of PBS programming, if that’s what your company decides to do,” he added. “Our membership is vastly different [than the NCTA’s], and that has been a key point of discussion with APTS in setting what we consider to be reasonable triggers before any obligation might follow concerning PBS carriage.”

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