NAB Seeking Cable-Carriage Confab


Broadcasting and cable leaders should meet soon to negotiate outstanding digital-carriage issues amid continuing signs that the federal government won’t intervene, National Association of Broadcasters president Edward Fritts said Monday in a brief letter to Roberts Sachs, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Fritts said his idea for a conference among “key broadcasting- and cable-industry leaders” came at the suggestion of Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) at a private meeting among industry players last week on Capitol Hill.

In his one-page letter, Fritts offered something of an olive branch. “Our goal should be simple: to set aside past policy differences while doing what’s best for the viewing public,” he said.

In the next paragraph, Fritts failed to reiterate the NAB’s long-standing position that cable should carry both analog- and digital-TV signals during the transition and all free multicast digital services after it.

“We believe transitional carriage of all broadcast stations on cable can expedite the transition,” he said, without elaboration.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said Sachs would respond directly to Fritts and looked forward to meeting with him.

Dietz noted that cable-broadcasting digital-TV talks occurred a few years ago, but the NAB stopped attending.

“The NCTA does not regard dual must-carry of all broadcast stations as a way to advance the digital transition or jump-start discussions, which the NAB abandoned two years ago,” Dietz said. “Hopefully, the NAB has more constructive ideas than asking cable systems to carry every commercial station twice.”

In 2001, the Federal Communications Commission said dual must-carry likely violated cable’s First Amendment rights, and the agency refused to require cable to carry more than a single digital-broadcasting service -- a victory for cable that has forced broadcasters to bargain for cable carriage of their current digital services.

Last week, Insight Communications Co. Inc. CEO Michael Willner told a House subcommittee cable operators are carrying the signals of nearly 400 digital-TV stations that offer HDTV and other compelling digital content. The United States has 1,744 commercial and public TV stations.