Paxson: DTV Transition `A Mess'

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Lowell W. Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications Corp., said the digital
transition is a 'mess' and blamed the Federal Communications Commission for the
trouble due to its failure to require cable carriage of digital-TV signals.

Paxson, who is suing the commission over its digital must-carry decisions,
ventilated his frustrations in a Feb. 11 letter to FCC chairman Michael
Powell.

'Let's acknowledge,' Paxson said in the two-page letter, 'that the heart of
that mess is the absence of immediate and full digital must-carry, and let's
tackle that issue without delay by fully airing the matter in public hearings at
the FCC.'

Paxson's company describes itself as the nation's largest
broadcast-television-station group through its ownership of 65 stations reaching
85 percent of U.S. television households.

Last January, the FCC rejected broadcasters' proposal that cable operators
carry both analog and digital signals until 85 percent of the country had
digital receivers. The cable industry argued that dual carriage would gobble up
channels and bump cable networks from systems.

Although the FCC rejected dual must-carry as a likely First Amendment
violation, the agency said TV stations broadcasting only in digital were
entitled to mandatory carriage. Moreover, the commission said, digital-only TV
stations could require cable carriage of their signals on analog tiers.

Paxson sued the FCC when the agency refused to endorse his alternative
carriage plan, which called for cable carriage in analog of his primary digital
signal and digital-tier carriage of five multicast digital signals.

But a hearing on the case was postponed while the commission considers
broadcasters' appeal of the original FCC decision on dual carriage and related
issues.

'My own company's efforts to judicially enforce full digital-multicast
must-carry are on hold while the court waits for the FCC to act,' Paxson's
letter said.

He added that it was important for the agency to act soon because every
commercial TV station had to be on the air in digital by May 1.

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, 249 stations are
beaming digital signals. Another 1,000 still need to sign on.

'Broadcasters are close to their DTV-construction deadlines, but there is no
prospect of cable carriage of these digital signals,' Paxson
said.

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