Powell: Multicasting Ruling Fluid


No majority currently exists at the Federal Communications Commission to force cable companies to carry multiple programming services distributed by digital-television stations, chairman Michael Powell said Thursday.

Powell -- who voted to oppose a multicast mandate in January 2001 -- dismissed reports that broadcasters had prevailed over cable operators and programmers in the debate at the GOP-controlled agency.

"I don't think it's at all clear yet, to be perfectly honest. I think it's pretty fluid," Powell told reporters after giving a speech at a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel.

The cable industry is lobbying to block a rule that would give each digital-TV station mandatory cable carriage for several programming services, as opposed to one signal under current rules. Digital technology, unlike analog technology, allows for flexible use of the bit stream, turning each station into a multichannel-video provider.

In large markets like New York and Los Angeles, area cable systems might be required to carry dozens of programming services offered by local TV stations, perhaps squeezing cable networks off the channel-clogged systems.

Asked to comment on reports that he now supports broadcasters, Powell said he had not abandoned the vote he cast nearly three years ago, just days before he was elevated to chairman by President George W. Bush.

"It certainly would not, as I am standing here, be accurate to say that I've changed my mind," he added.

Powell said he remains hopeful that the agency will vote on the issue at its Dec. 17 meeting.

"The roll is sort of being called daily. It doesn't yet have a commanding clear majority for a particular position. It'll be pushed out soon as there is one. But I can't say that there is one at the moment," he added.