Cable Nets Pitch Congress on Multicasting

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From A&E Network to Wisdom Television, dozens of cable networks issued a proclamation Wednesday telling Congress that the nation’s TV stations do not deserve mandatory cable carriage of multiple digital services, also called multicast must-carry.

Cable networks expressed their views in print advertisements set to run Wednesday and Thursday in Capitol Hill publications widely read by members of Congress and their aides.

Elsewhere, C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb personally wrote President Bush opposing the expansion of broadcasters’ cable-carriage rights, an informed source said. A copy of the letter was unavailable late Tuesday.

In their ad, called “An Open Letter to Congress,” nearly 100 networks argued that TV stations were looking to gain guaranteed access of up to six channels -- five more than currently permitted -- to the detriment of cable networks that can’t reach viewers over the air as TV stations can.

“We seek a fair opportunity to compete with broadcasters for cable and satellite distribution and viewership -- nothing more and nothing else. We urge you to oppose the broadcasters’ bid for ‘multicast must-carry,’” the ad said.

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on multicast must-carry. The agency is expected to reject that idea, reaffirming a January 2001 ruling that TV stations are entitled to cable carriage of a single digital service after they have surrendered their analog spectrum.

Many TV stations, led by the National Association of Broadcasters, claim that over-the-air viewers won’t enjoy new programming services that digital technology can provide unless those services can reach cable’s large mass audience.

The ad explains that further information can be obtained from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

“It’s worth noting that the NCTA ad does not include the Playboy Channel, Spice Network, The Erotic Network and The Hot Network,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said.

Home Box Office and Cinemax, however, attached their names to the ad. Both networks offer programming with nudity and sex.

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