Multicasting Ship Hasn't Sailed - Multichannel

Multicasting Ship Hasn't Sailed

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Washington— No majority now exists on the Federal Communications Commission to force cable companies to carry multiple programming services distributed by digital television stations, FCC chairman Michael Powell said last Thursday.

Powell, who voted to oppose a multicast mandate in January 2001, dismissed reports that broadcasters had prevailed over cable operators and programmers in the debate at the GOP-controlled agency.

"I don't think it's at all clear yet, to be perfectly honest. I think it's pretty fluid," Powell told reporters after giving a speech at a downtown Washington hotel.

The cable industry is lobbying to block a rule that would give each DTV station mandatory cable carriage for several programming services, compared to one signal under current rules. Digital technology, unlike analog technology, allows for flexible use of the bit stream, turning each station into a multichannel video provider. (See story, page 38.)

In large markets like New York and Los Angeles, area cable operators might be required to carry dozens of programming services offered by local-TV stations, perhaps squeezing cable nets off the channel-clogged systems.

Asked to comment on reports that he now supports broadcasters, Powell said he had not abandoned his vote cast nearly three years ago, just days before he was elevated to chairman by President Bush.

"It certainly would not, as I am standing here, be accurate to say that I've changed my mind," Powell said.

Powell said he remains hopeful the agency will vote on the issue at its Dec. 17 meeting. "The roll is sort of being called daily. It doesn't yet have a commanding clear majority for a particular position," Powell said.

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