The cable industry may have found its most lethal weapon yet against a policy to expand cable carriage of local TV stations.
It’s opposition from broadcasters themselves.
The vast majority of TV stations want a federal rule to require cable systems to carry their multiple digital-programming services in an expansion of current analog must-carry rules that limit carriage to one service. But at least one TV-station group has other ideas.
Spanish broadcaster Entravision Holdings Inc. is a holdout from the multicast must-carry consensus, telling the Federal Communications Commission that broadening the carriage rules for digital TV could cause the courts to bring down all must-carry rules.
That would greatly harm Entravision stations, which need bare bones must-carry rights to get berths on cable systems.
Cable programmers are beginning to replay Entravision’s message at the FCC.
In a March 16 filing, A&E Television Networks and Court TV cited Entravision’s analysis as yet another — and telling — rationale for limiting TV stations to just one programming stream on cable.
“As independent broadcaster Entravision noted, broadcasters and others who advocate multicast-carriage requirements may place the entire must-carry rationale at risk,” the cable networks said. “By trying to push the envelope too far, such advocacy could undermine the narrow support for existing must-carry rules.”
The Supreme Court barely endorsed analog must-carry in 1997 — a point A&E and Court TV also made to the FCC in arguing that expanding the rules could be legally dangerous.
The FCC has been mulling a multicast carriage mandate for many years but does not appear to be close to issuing a ruling.
Entravision isn’t backing down: Two weeks ago, chairman and CEO Walter Ulloa made the rounds at the FCC, including visits with agency chairman Michael Powell, the other four commissioners and some of their legal assistants.
Powell is on record opposing multicast must carry, but FCC member Kevin Martin is leading the faction in support of it.
The two have not been able to reach a compromise that would command a majority of the five-person FCC.
In a March 1 filing at the FCC, Entravision explained that a multicast mandate could have devastating consequences because the company expects the cable industry to ask the courts to hold that no form of must-carry—single or multiple—is consistent with the First Amendment any longer.
'STAKES TOO HIGH’
Entravision said the “stakes are simply too high” and the FCC should not “push the constitutional limits of must-carry” by requiring cable to carry multiple programming streams.
Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Entravision owns 42 stations that are totally dependent upon must-carry-enabled distribution.
It claims an audience of 2.1 million television households, with 22 stations running Univision network shows and 14 affiliated with the Telefutura network.