AT&T Concerned About Multicasting Mandates

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AT&T Inc. is concerned that a requirement to carry multiple digital-broadcast signals in formats selected by TV stations would impose financial and technological burdens on its Internet-protocol-television service despite its abundant channel capacity.

“It is AT&T’s belief that decisions affecting carriage of programming offered by local commercial broadcast stations should be subject to commercial discussions between content owners and video providers,” the company said in a June 9 Federal Communications Commission filing, adding that such discussions were taking place.

The AT&T letter came as FCC chairman Kevin Martin is attempting to win support for rules that would permit each TV station to demand cable carriage of multiple programming services, up from just one service per stations under current rules. The agency could adopt the rules -- strongly opposed by the cable industry -- at its June 21 public meeting.

For AT&T, FCC adoption of the rules would be a nonevent because the company repeated in the FCC letter its view that IPTV service is not a cable service within the meaning of federal law. Martin’s new must-carry rules at a minimum would apply to cable operators offering cable service.

The tables could turn on AT&T because House and Senate bills designed to ease or eliminate local cable franchises would likely bring IPTV within the ambit of would-be FCC multicast must-carry rules -- an outcome not mentioned by AT&T in its letter to the commission.

From a technological perspective, multicast must-carry would impose cost burdens on IPTV providers because the networks would have to be configured to accommodate TV stations that varied their programming services by daypart, AT&T told the FCC.

“For example, the allocations of four unique standard-definition channels during the day and one high-definition and three standard-definition unique channels in the evening equate to eight distinct channels that must be provided on AT&T’s IP-video platform,” the telco added.

The creation of distinct channels, AT&T added, would mean that “a broadcaster could not simply allocate bandwidth on a dynamic basis within a 6-megahertz slot as may be facilitated over a traditional cable system.”

Designing the network to accommodate shifting digital-TV signal formats would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” per programming stream, AT&T said, adding that the FCC needed to take those cost into account as the agency “considers ways to increase video choice for consumers.”

AT&T’s letter did not address the impact of possible multicasting mandates with regard to noncommercial TV stations.

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