FCC Sources: Martin Drops Class A Must Carry

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Washington—Lacking political support, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin has been forced to drop his plan designed to force cable operators to carry hundreds of low-power TV stations for the first time, two senior FCC officials said Tuesday.

Martin wanted the agency to vote on his plan Wednesday in Nashville, but he decided not to go forward Tuesday afternoon after he failed to obtain two votes in addition his to ensure passage, FCC officials said.

A Martin spokesman did not have immediate comment.

Martin's plan put the FCC on track to allow more than 500 low-power Class A TV stations to apply to become full-power stations. Under current law, full-power TV stations are entitled to mandatory cable carriage; low-power stations, by contrast, have similar access rights only in limited circumstances.

The cable industry, including No. 1 cable operator Comcast Corp., opposed Martin's plan, saying additional TV station carriage burdens would violate the First Amendment and potentially disrupt the national conversion to digital television on Feb. 17, 2009.

Martin has said that carriage of Class A stations would promote diverse programming on cable systems.

According to FCC data, 43% of Class A stations are Spanish-language broadcasters. The Community Broadcasters Association, a trade group for low-power TV stations, estimates that about 6% of Class A stations are religious broadcasters.

Martin proposed that the FCC adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking, which would set the stage for passage of final rules in a few months that would give eligible Class A stations mandatory cable carriage, FCC sources said.

Four FCC members balked, telling Martin that all they would support was a notice of inquiry, a fact-finding process that would not involve the adoption of rules, FCC sources said.

Martin declined to go along, opting to pull his plan from the meeting agenda, FCC sources said.

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