WASHINGTON - Senior executives from 25 cable networks plan
to blanket the Federal Communications Commission next week in an effort to blunt any
attempt by the agency to force cable operators to carry both analog- and digital-TV
National Cable Television Association president Robert
Sachs made the announcement in a speech here that spelled out in elaborate detail the
cable industry's opposition to a double dose of mandatory carriage, which could force
channel-locked cable systems to bump established cable networks.
"To give you an idea about the seriousness of the
concerns our industry has about digital must-carry, this will be the first time so large a
group of cable operators has ever visited the FCC," Sachs said, adding that 70 cable
networks in all will be represented at the Nov. 3 commission sessions.
In the speech, Sachs said FCC imposition of digital
must-carry would be an inefficient, burdensome and unconstitutional intervention by
government into the programming-distribution market that was never intended by Congress.
"Government-mandated must-carry is not the answer to
creating marketplace demand for digital TV," he added.
He urged broadcasters to resolve their own internal debate
about technical standards and digital-TV-set makers to lower their prices to affordable
FCC officials have promised to issue digital must-carry
rules by the end of the year. Agency sources said chairman William Kennard remains
skeptical that the broadcast industry has made the legal and business case for mandatory
National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis
Wharton said digital must-carry was imperative if TV stations are going to transition out
of the analog format.
"For the digital-TV rollout to succeed, the FCC must
adopt a strong pro-consumer digital must-carry rule for cable. This FCC must decide
whether it is for the gatekeeper or the consumers," Wharton said.