Martin Wants Dual Carriage Vote

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Washington -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin is seeking support for an order that would require cable operators in early 2009 to carry so-called must carry TV stations in both analog and digital formats on cable systems that have not converted to digital-only transmission.

Martin circulated the order to the other four FCC members -- two of whom are Republicans like Martin -- on Tuesday. Martin needs two more votes to prevail on an issue that places him squarely at odds with the cable industry, which has historically opposed regulatory largess for local TV stations that places additional burdens on cable channel capacity.

Last summer, Martin had to pull a different but related cable carriage order when he failed to secure three votes.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association lobbied hard to frustrate Martin’s design, which would have forced cable operators to carry multiple digital signals transmitted by TV stations that elect must carry. Today, FCC rules require carriage of just one programming service for each must carry station.

The FCC’s next public meeting is Sept. 11, but no meeting agenda has been announced. Multiple FCC officials confirmed that Martin had circulated the new cable carriage item just two business days after the agency received its last round of public comment on the dual carriage proposal.

Martin’s proposal is tied to the congressionally mandated conversion to digital broadcasting, which requires every full-power TV station to turn off its analog signal on Feb. 17, 2009 and rely exclusively on digital transmission of its content.

Martin is concerned that a TV station relying on must carry might not be seen in millions of cable homes that have only analog equipment. The concern extends to cable homes with multiple analog TV sets but only one of them is capable of translating digital signals.

In its proposal, the FCC said that because federal law requires that must carry signals must be viewable in cable homes, cable operators must carry those signals in both analog and digital after Feb. 17, 2009. For cable systems that are all digital on that date, the dual carriage requirement would not apply because the FCC is presuming that every TV sets connected to the cable system can translate digital signals.

Depending on the wording of the FCC’s order, the agency new rules could result in triple carriage of must carry stations: once in analog, once in standard definition digital and again in high definition digital.

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