NAB, Powell at Odds on Multicasting


Broadcasters will continue to press for digital-multicast-carriage rights on cable systems even though Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell has scheduled a February vote to kill the idea.

"For consumers to receive the full benefits of digital and high-definition television, it is vitally important for cable systems to carry all signals offered by local TV stations,” National Association of Broadcasters president Edward Fritts said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The NAB will continue to strongly advocate this position as the FCC deliberates this issue."

An FCC source said Powell wants the agency to vote Feb. 10 on a proposal that would reaffirm that cable is not required to carry more than a single digital-programming service provided by a digital-TV station.

In addition, Powell wants the majority to rule that cable does not have to carry a station’s analog and digital signal during the transition to digital-only broadcasting.

Powell has tried to get the agency to decide key digital-TV-carriage issues in recent years, but policy disputes have frustrated his efforts.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association supports Powell’s digital-TV-carriage proposals.

"The FCC has previously found that requiring cable operators to carry analog and digital versions of every TV broadcast station would likely be unconstitutional. It has also determined that [federal law] does not require cable operators to carry multiple digital channels for every TV station. The extensive record in this proceeding gives the [FCC] ample reason to reaffirm its previous rulings,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said in a prepared statement Thursday.

Paxson Communications Corp., an advocate of multicast must-carry, has gone to federal court to force the FCC to adopt final digital-TV-carriage rules, but the court has not acted on the company's writ of mandamus.

"It's obvious that … chairman [Powell] has reviewed our response to the mandamus and he feels that he will be required to act. Therefore, he is finally putting it on the agenda after all these years,” a Paxson spokesperson said Thursday.

If Powell’s proposals are adopted, broadcasters can appeal them in federal court and claim that the agency ruling was unreasonable, unconstitutional, or both.