Lombardo: Powell Rushing Multicast Vote

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell is rushing a vote on a policy that would ban digital-TV stations from demanding carriage of multiple programming services by cable systems, a broadcasting executive said Thursday.

“It’s unfortunate that chairman Powell has decided to push an item as he’s walking out the door,” said Philip Lombardo, CEO of Citadel Broadcasting Corp. and joint board chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Powell, who is planning to leave the agency in March, has scheduled a Feb. 10 vote that is expected to deny digital broadcasters so-called multicast must-carry. Fearing defeat, broadcasters are urging the FCC and the White House to postpone the vote until Powell’s successor is in place.

“I would hope that either [Powell] would reconsider or that a number of commissioners would think that makes a lot of sense,” Lombardo said in remarks to the Media Institute, a First Amendment organization funded by various media companies.

While nixing multicasting, the FCC is expected to ensure that each digital-TV station gets cable carriage of a single programming stream. Lombardo said broadcasters would fight the FCC multicasting ban in court.

An FCC source responded to charges of rushing a vote by noting that the agency is voting on a request filed by broadcasters in 2001 after the agency denied multicast must-carry the first time.

The commission is also concerned about receiving a court order sought by broadcaster Paxson Communications Corp. that may force it to vote on multicasting within 30 days.

Lombardo didn’t believe that the FCC was under pressure to decide the issue.

“[Powell] has already responded to the court that he will get around to it. He didn’t have to get to it this quick without any dialogue and without the ability to have other forces provide their thoughts on the matter,” Lombardo said.

A total of 12 Republican members of Congress, including three senators, sent Powell a letter Tuesday reaffirming their support for multicast must-carry.

The 650 affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS have asked the FCC to postpone the vote, as did the head of National Religious Broadcasters in a letter to President Bush Wednesday.

Lombardo said that if broadcasters don’t get cable carriage to the extent they need, they will look to exploit the digital spectrum in new ways.

“It may be a pay service. It might be telephony,” Lombardo said. “If that occurs, all of the local public-interest initiatives will not be fulfilled. It’s a shame, in my opinion.”

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