Paxson Considering New DTV-Spectrum Uses


Paxson Communications Corp. CEO Lowell Paxson is considering asking the Federal Communications Commission for new regulatory flexibility for digital-TV-spectrum licensees.

Paxson is weighing his digital-TV options after he failed to convince the FCC to mandate multicast must-carry, a requirement that cable systems carry every digital-programming service that each digital-TV station transmits to the public in the local market.

Paxson disclosed Friday that he might ask the FCC for a rule change that would permit TV stations to transmit in modulations other than 8-VSB (vestigial sideband), which is the FCC-approved digital-TV-transmission standard compatible with digital-TV receivers.

Modulation flexibility, Paxson said, would allow TV stations to utilize excess digital spectrum to provide non-broadcast-video services. He declined to identify particular services, but datacasting to mobile devices is a likely candidate.

"It's under consideration at the present time. We've had it under study for about two weeks," Paxson said.

A few weeks ago, Philip Lombardo, CEO of Citadel Broadcasting Corp. and the National Association of Broadcasters' joint board chairman, indicated that TV stations might consider wireless-phone service if the FCC rejected multicast must-carry.

"I can't speak for the NAB," Paxson said. "I don't know the position of NAB."

Since last 2003, U.S. Digital Television Inc. has been using digital-TV spectrum to provide a low-cost pay TV service in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque, N.M., so far attracting 10,000 subscribers.

The company charges $19.95 per month to receive all local TV stations, including HDTV services and a smattering of cable networks, such as ESPN and Fox News Channel.

USDTV CEO Steve Lindsley said the company is "within 30 days of closing on a major round from what we think are the leading broadcast groups in the United States, who are going to fund USDTV and take controlling ownership in the company."

Paxson said he wasn't planning on joining USDTV. "The economics don't support it," he added.

Paxson wanted multicast must-carry from the FCC, claiming that access to cable's mass audience was the only way multiple services could survive. He declined to comment when asked if he would try to get the courts to reverse the commission's ruling.