Digital Must-Carry Tops Powell Agenda - Multichannel

Digital Must-Carry Tops Powell Agenda

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Washington -- Cable operators and programmers will get an answer soon on whether MSOs need to carry analog- and digital-broadcast signals during the transition to digital TV and multiple digital-broadcast TV signals after it.

"We are going to do digital must-carry, and we are going to do it this fall," Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell told reporters Wednesday at agency headquarters here.

Cable operators and programmers are fighting broadcasters' push for dual carriage as a waste of bandwidth on duplicative programming.

They also oppose the multicast-carriage mandate, saying that it would grant TV stations free cable access by default to compete against cable networks that must negotiate access, and that it would evict cable networks from channel-locked systems.

On other matters, Powell said the FCC would:

• Vote in October on rules to protect unscrambled digital-broadcast programming from retransmission over the Internet.

• Launch soon a major inquiry on regulatory issues associated with Internet-protocol distribution of voice, video and data service over broadband cable and telephone networks.

• Complete action on lingering cable-ownership issues, although no specific date was given.

Powell said the agency would also look closer at an issued raised by Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., The Walt Disney Co., eBay Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. -- namely, to what extent may cable and other broadband-network owners favor affiliated Web-content providers.

"If you're Microsoft, you talk about this in the language of Net neutrality, and if you're Intel [Corp.], you might call it something else. But the bottom line is that there is a serious set of anxieties out there [that] as this platform comes on, what can you do with it," Powell said.

The commission, he added, was planning to act on News Corp.’s merger with Hughes Electronics Corp. by the end of the year, but he did not make a firm commitment on timing.

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