Fritts: FCC Dithers, Stations Suffer

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Las Vegas-A day before Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard's speech, NAB president Edward Fritts took the podium and strongly criticized the agency's handling of digital must-carry, saying FCC inaction is hurting small stations' ability to get a return on their digital investment.

"Dithering and indecisive, the government is failing in its basic obligation to guide this process," the National Association of Broadcasters chief told a convention auditorium filled with hundreds of listeners.

Small-market TV stations have poured millions of dollars into the upgrade to digital, said Fritts, who warned that the effort would collapse without mandated cable carriage.

"They must invest millions of dollars-in some cases, more than the station's entire asset value-to make the transition to digital," Fritts said. "And yet, the government still drags its feet on giving any assurance that the stations' signals will be carried or received without material degradation."

TV stations are doing their part, Fritts argued, but the FCC is declining to force cable operators and TV-set makers to do anything to assist in the transition.

He urged the FCC to ensure carriage of the entire bit stream-which could include data services, multichannel video and pay-per-view programming-and prevent cable from using "its monopolistic powers to eliminate our new competitive data systems or multiple-channel presentations."

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