Court TV Balks at Multicasting Mandate

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Cable and broadcasting leaders met in New York last week on ways to solve the digital-TV transition, but a letter sent Monday to Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell by Courtroom Television Network reaffirmed the network's hostility to broadcaster-friendly government mandates.

Led by the National Association of Broadcasters, TV stations want the FCC to require cable carriage of "multicast" services provided free by digital broadcasters.

Digital-TV stations can segment their spectrum to offer several channels rather than one, but the NAB maintained that stations won't move in that direction for the benefit of off-air-only viewers unless cable carriers the same content.

In the letter to Powell, Glenn Moss, Court TV's senior vice president of business affairs and affiliate relations, castigated a multicasting mandate as a government handout to TV stations that consider noncompetitive access to cable homes as a kind of entitlement program they uniquely deserve.

A multicast mandate would, he added, inflict harm on cable networks that must bargain with cable operators to reach their viewers.

"A multicast-carriage requirement would establish an unconstitutional preference for broadcast programming by magnifying the regulatory advantages that broadcasters already receive," Moss said, citing broadcasters' $70 billion spectrum loan in 1997 for the digital-TV transition.

Court TV's four-page letter was a rejoinder to an Oct. 11 letter to Powell sent by Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho), in which the lawmakers argued that the lack of a multicasting mandate would dilute broadcasting services as a proportion of a cable system's total number of channels and would deny cable viewers access "to local, family-friendly and spiritual programming."

Moss indicated that the adoption of a multicast mandate based on the content of the programming, rather than on a content-neutral rationale, such as fair competition, would clearly run afoul of the First Amendment and not survive court review.

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