NCTA Backs Dual Carriage in House Bill

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The cable industry is endorsing a proposal in House draft legislation released Friday that would require carriage of must-carry TV stations in analog and digital for five years after analog TV shuts off Dec. 31, 2008.

“We are willing to make this significant concession expressly to facilitate Congressional action returning broadcasters' analog spectrum for important uses like public safety and to facilitate the consumer transition,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow said in a prepared statement.

During the last decade, the National Association of Broadcasters lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to impose dual must-carry on cable. The NCTA argued that cable systems lacked capacity for dual carriage and that such a mandate would violate the First Amendment rights of MSOs and programmers.

The draft bill, backed by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), would apply the dual-carriage mandate to high-capacity cable systems. Systems with 550 megahertz or less would be required to distribute must-carry digital-TV signals in analog, with digital carriage of the same signals optional.

The draft bill would allow every household to apply for two federal coupons, worth $40 each, to help pay for converter boxes that will keep analog TVs working after the transition. The bill allocates $830 million for set-top subsidies. The leading Senate bill includes $3 billion.

The House draft would not impose multicast must-carry -- the idea that if a digital-TV station transmits five or six programming services, cable systems should be forced to carry all of them.

“We are pleased that this legislation rejects a multicasting mandate. We remain adamant that multicasting requirements are unconstitutional and not in the best interest of our customers, and we will continue to oppose them,” McSlarrow said.

The dual-carriage requirement would not represent an additional burden on the two largest cable companies -- Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable -- because both intend to distribute to all subscribers a digital simulcast of their analog channels. In some cases, the MSOs plan to carry major network affiliates three ways -- in analog, in standard-definition digital and in high-definition digital.

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