Paxson Eyes Digital Carriage in Chicago

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New York-Paxson Communications Corp. is in talks with AT & T Broadband in Chicago about getting carriage for its digital-TV station, WCPX-TV, and its five digital multicasts, Paxson chairman Lowell "Bud" Paxson said last week.

During a press conference last Wednesday at Pax TV's upfront, Paxson described discussions that have gone on with AT & T Broadband executive vice president of programming Matt Bond about securing cable carriage for WCPX-TV.

According to Paxson, Bond told him, "Your plan is the least intrusive anyone has given us," and it could avoid the whole digital must-carry issue going up "before the Supreme Court."

An AT & T Broadband spokes-man declined to comment last week on Paxson's remarks.

WCPX-TV's digital multicasts include East, Central and West Coast feeds of Pax TV, as well as three religious networks Paxson didn't identify.

Paxson's digital must-carry proposal employs cable-channel-mapping protocol, or PSIP, and Paxson said this is what is being discussed with Bond.

PSIP allows multicast channels to appear in sequence. For example, if Paxson's primary TV station was on channel 20 on cable, his multicast channels would be on 201 through 205. With the PSIP technology, the remote control would automatically move a subscriber from channel 20 to channels 201, 202, 203, 204 and 205, then jump back down to 21.

Paxson's complex digital must-carry proposal and the part PSIP would play in it is outlined in a May 3 letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard. That proposal calls for mandatory cable carriage of either a TV station's analog or digital signal, at the election of the TV station, during the digital-transition years.

In his letter to Kennard, Paxson also said he would soon be mailing written must-carry notices to cable operators and "open-video-system operators" in Chicago requesting carriage for "WCPX-DT."

Also at the upfront, Paxson's characterization of comments he said Kennard made the day before during a meeting of the Broadcasters' Digital Cooperative caused a minor flap and prompted a denial from Kennard's office.

Paxson maintained that Kennard had told the group that cable must-carry for digital television was assured, which Paxson claimed was a change in position for the FCC chief.

Later that same day, last Wednesday, an FCC spokesperson released a statement saying that Kennard had not budged from his position that he is not rushing to judgment on digital must-carry. Kennard has stated that view to broadcasters and cable operators during the past two months.

"He has made it clear that he believes that before he makes any decision on the pending digital must-carry proceeding, he needs to be able to weigh how the broadcasting and cable industries are moving ahead with their programming and business plans on the DTV transition, and also, the steps these industries are taking to resolve the digital must-carry issues themselves," the FCC statement said. "He has not changed this view."

In his comments to the Digital Co-Op, Kennard apparently only meant that broadcasters will be assured carriage of at least one signal following completion of the transition to digital.

According to Paxson, Kennard had told the broadcasters, "You have 6 megahertz now, and that I can guarantee."

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