NCTA Scoffs At Urban Television’s ‘Share Time’ Petition

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Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson’s recently filed FCC petition to force cable and satellite distributors to carry his new urban-targeted television network under “share time” licenses is nothing more than a plea for multicast must-carry rights and should be rejected, according to the National Cable Television Association.

Johnson’s RLJ Companies Tuesday announced it is teaming with ION Networks to launch Urban Television LLC, a new African-American targeted network that would take over one of ION Network’s digital channels in 42 markets.

According to the two companies, the proposed share-time agreement would allow Urban Television to operate “a continuous television program service aimed at serving the needs and interests of urban viewers and traditionally underserved minority communities.”

But NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said the proposal is nothing more than a request for multicast must-carry rights that the FCC has already rejected.

“This appears to be a request for multicast must-carry rights in all but name only,” Dietz said in a statement. “The full Commission has repeatedly rejected multicast must carry because it is unconstitutional and unnecessary. Broadcasters with compelling content can, and do, obtain carriage for multicast programming but mandating carriage of those signals should again be rejected.”

Harold Feld, senior vice president of the consumer activist group Media Access Project, said Johnson’s proposal may find a sympathetic ear within the new administration of president-elect Barack Obama.

“I think a lot depends on who the commissioners are,” said Feld. “Certainly the environment will be generally more receptive to these types of arguments, but that is no guarantee that the argument will prevail.”

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