Fritts Keeps Pressing for Dual Must-Carry


Las Vegas -- It wouldn't be a National Association of Broadcasters convention
without a little cable bashing.

In a speech here Monday, NAB president Edward Fritts put the word out that
the agreement on cable-ready digital-TV sets was welcome news but hardly enough
to end tensions between broadcasters and cable.

Fritts complained that cable is refusing to carry the bulk of digital-TV
signals, saying there were 809 digital-TV stations are on the air but just 107
had obtained cable carriage.

"Here, ladies and gentleman, the cable industry is missing at its post and
absent without leave. Cable operators are carrying less than 13 percent of local
DTV broadcast stations that are on the air today," he said.

For years, the NAB has urged Congress and the Federal Communications
Commission to require cable carriage of both analog- and digital-TV signals.
Despite regulatory setbacks, the trade group has no intention of giving up on
"dual" must carry, Fritts said.

"It's high time that the cable industry be placed under a federal mandate to
carry local DTV broadcast signals," he added.

In January, when Fritts complained that cable operators refused to carry
ABC's coverage of the Super Bowl in high-definition format, the National Cable
& Telecommunications Association replied that many ABC affiliates sought
cash for the signal, contrary to the wishes of FCC chairman Michael Powell.

The NCTA also said many TV stations that had converted to digital were not
providing HDTV, the service that is supposed to stimulate demand for expensive
HDTV sets.

In a few months, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin
(R-La.) is expected to introduce digital-TV legislation without a
dual-must-carry requirement -- the same approach he took last year in a draft
bill, Tauzin aides said.

"He isn't going to mandate dual must-carry. He doesn't think it's
constitutional," Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.

Some in broadcasting aren't sanguine that Powell's FCC will help on the
carriage issue.

"We've tried to push dual must-carry at the FCC but, quite frankly, we
haven't done very well," Tribune Co. lobbyist Shaun Sheehan