Charter: Cable, TV Had `Primary' Deal

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Charter Communications Inc. claimed that broadcasters agreed with cable
operators in 1986 to a policy in which cable operators were required to carry
just one programming stream -- not several -- supplied by local TV stations.

The cable industry and local TV stations are warring at the Federal
Communications Commission over the definition of the legal term 'primary video'
in the digital age. The outcome could lead to a carriage bonanza for digital-TV
stations, while perhaps causing some cable networks to lose carriage of their
digital content.

The cable industry insisted that primary video means one programming stream
-- an interpretation Charter said was embodied in a 1986 agreement signed by the
National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association.

Today, the NAB argues that primary video means all free programming services
within the 19.4-megabit-per-second digital bit stream -- an interpretation that
could mean mandatory cable carriage for one high-definition-television signal
during some dayparts or carriage of one-dozen or so standard-definition
programming streams in other dayparts.

According to a text of the 1986 agreement, primary video was not defined.
However, it indicated that cable operators got to decide whether or not to carry
enhancements to the primary video, and those enhancements were defined to mean
things such as multichannel sound and teletext.

'Broadcasters accepted single-channel must-carry in 1986 as part of the
must-carry rules, as did Congress in 1992,' Charter asserted in an Aug. 15 FCC
filing.

Jack Goodman, an attorney for the NAB, said Charter's filing was flawed
because in 1986, no one was thinking about digital television. He added that the
FCC did not adopt the 1986 agreement, and it and later FCC must-carry rules were
superseded by the 1992 Cable Act, which established mandatory carriage
rules.

'If this is the best they can come up with, it's a pretty . weak argument,'
Goodman said. 'This is an irrelevancy upon an historical
footnote.'

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