Lott Indicates Support for Multicasting

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Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is dropping strong hints that he supports multicasting, the cable carriage of multiple digital broadcast signals, an issue that a deadlocked Federal Communications Commission has been trying to resolve for months.

In an Oct. 10 letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell, Lott and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) endorsed the idea that many TV stations would need cable carriage of multiple programming streams in order to remain viable in a marketplace with hundreds of cable channels. They said carriage was especially important to religious and multilingual broadcasters.

Unless cable is required to carry multiple signals, Lott and Craig said, "the constructive and positive programming which they offer will be highly diluted as a percentage of the total channels available on digital-cable systems."

Multicasting refers to the ability of local TV stations to use their digital spectrum to offer several streams of programming, not just one signal that analog technology affords. In January 2001, the FCC ruled that digital TV stations electing must-carry were entitled to carriage of only one programming stream.

The cable industry strongly opposes a multicasting mandate, claiming it would chew up channel capacity and give TV stations an unfair advantage over cable networks that do not have a broadcast outlet.

Pressure on Powell

Powell, who became chairman shortly after the ruling, voted to limit digital must-carry to one programming stream, saying the FCC decision was "compelled by the language of the statute."

Powell reportedly has the support of Republican FCC member Kathleen Abernathy, but has come under pressure from Republican FCC member Kevin Martin and Democratic FCC member Michael Copps to reverse his position.

Lott and Craig stopped short or urging the FCC to adopt a multicast mandate. Instead, they asked Powell for "his thoughts on this matter," including what regulatory or legislative steps might be needed to ensure that "the objectives of the current 'must-carry' policy are carried forward as the transition to digital television continues."

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