Minority Group Backs Martin's Class A Plan


Washington -- A group in support of increasing minority ownership of mass media properties is backing Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to give mandatory cable carriage rights to more than 500 TV stations for the first time.

Martin's plan is expected to come before the five-member FCC at its Oct. 15 public meeting in Washington D.C. If adopted, the plan could set the stage for allowing so-called low-power Class A stations to apply for full-power status. Full-power stations, by law, have automatic access to local cable systems.

"Class A stations offer the best opportunity for minorities, women and small-business to participate and compete in the television industry, which is increasingly consolidated with few opportunities for minority broadcasters," said David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, in a letter to Martin on Monday.

Martin's plan would allow 555 Class A TV stations to apply for full-power status from the FCC. After obtaining approval, the stations could demand immediate cable carriage under a 1992 law held constitutional by the Supreme Court five years later.

All 1,756 full-power TV stations, commercial and noncommercial, have a legal right to demand cable carriage. Commercial stations have the right to demand compensation in negotiated carriage deals.

Martin's plan would allow up to 555 Class A TV stations to apply for full-power status from the FCC, which would need to examine whether the requesting stations at full-power would create interference for neighboring stations. In many communities, cable carriage would give Class A stations instant access to 60% of local homes, and likely increase the economic value of the stations.

According to FCC data, 43% of Class A stations are Spanish-language broadcasters. The Community Broadcasters Association, a trade group for low-power TV stations, estimates that about 6% of Class A stations are religious broadcasters.

"Class A stations have the largest percentage of minority and female ownership of all the broadcast services, and are valuable assets to the communities they serve," Honig added.

At the Oct. 15 meeting, the FCC is expected to begin the process on whether Class A stations should get must carry rights on cable. A final decision won't come for months.

"MMTC strongly encourages the commissioners to support this initiative, which would do much to enhanced diversity and localism in television," Honig said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is opposed to Martin's plan, while The National Association Broadcasters has not taken a stance.