FCC Source: No Multicasting Decision Until 2004


The cable and broadcasting industries will probably have to wait until early 2004 before getting an answer from the Federal Communications Commission on key digital-TV-carriage issues, an agency source said Tuesday.

The deadline for FCC staff to present the five commissioners with recommendations for their Dec. 17 public meeting is Wednesday. But the staff is not planning to meet that deadline.

Instead, Media Bureau officials will continue work on concluding their review of the proposed News Corp. merger with DirecTV Inc. parent Hughes Electronics Corp., an FCC source said.

FCC chairman Michael Powell told reporters in October that he wanted to act on digital-carriage issues this fall, but that plan has evidently been sidetracked. Powell still has the option to put the digital-carriage issue on what's called "circulation," which involves FCC members voting in private and announcing the outcome later in a press release.

Cable operators and programmers are opposing a broadcaster proposal that the FCC require cable carriage of local stations' entire digital-TV signals, whether they are made up of single HDTV services or five or six standard-definition multicast services.

The cable industry's position is that digital-TV stations are entitled to carriage of just one programming service, and not until after all TV stations have surrendered their analog licenses to the FCC.

Powell told reporters last month that no majority for a multicast-carriage mandate exists. In 2001, Powell, then just a commissioner, voted in the majority to reject a multicast mandate.