NCTA Boss Dumps On Martin Class A Plan

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Washington – Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin “has proposed a new and unprecedented must carry mandate for low power television stations, injecting new uncertainty and potential litigation at a critical time in the DTV transition,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow plans to tell a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

McSlarrow was reacting to press reports that Martin is looking at rewarding more than 500 Class A stations with so-called full-power status, entitling them to mandatory carriage on local cable systems for the first time. A copy of McSlarrow’s testimony was obtained Tuesday by Multichannel News.

Martin hopes that full-power rights will spur Class A stations to upgrade to digital, which would lessen concern about the small number of digital-to-analog converter boxes approved by the U.S. Commerce Department that can pass through analog signals.

Class A stations and thousands of low-power and translator stations are not required to transition to digital on Feb. 17, 2009 along with full-power stations. These station owners fear their signals won’t be viewable after millions of consumers connect converter boxes to their analog sets.

In his testimony, McSlarrow said cable would resist any attempt by the FCC to flood cable systems with Class A and low-power signals.

“Obligating cable operators to carry upwards of 2,800 LPTV signals – which Congress determined were not entitled to must carry unless they meet specific statutory criteria – imposes an unacceptable, unconstitutional new burden,” McSlarrow said.

McSlarrow noted that forcing Class A and low-power stations onto to cable would do nothing to solve the problem before them: losing access to over-the-air viewers.

“LPTV stations need to launch an information campaign to inform their viewers that they should: (1) request an NTIA voucher for a converter box and (2) make sure that they buy one of the models that pass through the analog signals,” McSlarrow said.

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