A Federal Communications Commission plan to hasten the digital-television transition does not include a proposal that would require cable systems to carry multiple digital-broadcasting services, FCC chairman Michael Powell told reporters Wednesday.
Broadcasters with digital spectrum are capable of using the bandwidth to transmit five or six programming services, and they have been lobbying the FCC to ensure cable carriage of all of those services, as opposed to just one, as called for in current FCC rules.
Powell said the digital-TV transition plan does not deviate from the FCC’s conclusion in January 2001 that for purposes of digital must-carry, a TV station’s primary video constitutes one stream of programming.
“The plan would be that when the broadcaster has to elect must-carry, it would only have must right on its digital channel. A single stream would have to be provided by cable,” Powell said. “I should be fair to broadcasters. That’s presuming no further change in the multicasting rules.”
The FCC has seesawed on this issue. When the plan was unveiled in March by Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree, the idea was to limit digital must-carry to one programming service. But FCC sources said the plan was subsequently changed to include a multicasting mandate.
However, Powell’s comments Wednesday indicated that multicasting was now off the table.
Powell spoke to reporters after testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee to urge support for the Ferree plan, which would require TV stations to surrender analog spectrum Dec. 31, 2008, for reallocation to public-safety users that need additional bandwidth to communicate during emergencies.