Lott May Back Multicasting Carriage

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Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is dropping strong hints that he
supports 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, the two senators said,
"The constructive and positive programming 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, and not just the 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 that it
would chew up channel capacity and give TV stations an unfair advantage over
cable networks that do not have broadcast outlets.

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

Powell, who has the support of Republican commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, is
coming under pressure from Republican FCC member Kevin Martin and Democratic
commissioner Michael Copps to reverse his position.

Lott and Craig stopped short of 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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