NCTA: Space Scarce for DTV Signals


A key regulatory question facing the cable industry is whether MSOs have the
channel capacity to carry both analog- and digital-TV stations during the
multiyear transition to digital-only broadcasting.

The Federal Communications Commission is examining this issue closely as part
of its third attempt since 1997 to determine whether dual must-carry can be
imposed without violating the First Amendment rights of cable operators and
programmers that could get bumped in favor of duplicative broadcast signals.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association tried to answer that
question Monday by telling the FCC channel capacity is either nonexistent or
extremely scarce.

'According to Nielsen [Media Research], more than one-half of the cable
customers in the United States subscribe to systems with no available channels,'
the NCTA said in a 34-page filing. 'Nearly 80 percent of cable customers
subscribe to systems with three or fewer channels.'

The NCTA said cable systems are devoting bandwidth not only to video
programming, but also to telephony, high-speed data, digital audio and
interactive-television applications.

'The fact that capacity remains tight is unsurprising. There are many
competing demands for use of cable bandwidth,' the association said.

The National Association of Broadcasters insisted that the 1992 Cable Act
left the FCC no choice but to insist on dual carriage. The NCTA countered that
TV stations have mandatory carriage rights for the analog or the digital signal,
but not for both.

In January, the FCC ruled that a TV station with an analog and digital
license could insist on digital must-carry only after the station had
surrendered its analog license. The agency launched a new proceeding in part to
collect channel-capacity data from large cable operators.