Powell's Multicasting Plan Concerns Willner

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Washington -- Broadcasters should expect resistance if they view a new
digital-TV-transition plan floated by the Federal Communications Commission as a
way of gaining forced cable carriage of one local station's multiple digital-TV
signals, Insight Communications Co. Inc. president and CEO Michael Willner said
Tuesday.

While generally supportive of the FCC plan backed by chairman Michael Powell,
Willner said he is seeking clarification on whether cable needs to carry
high-definition-TV signals or multicast digital-TV signals.

'Is this a high-definition-television discussion, or is it more than that?'
Willner asked reporters at the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association's headquarters here.

The Powell plan calls on cable to offer to carry at no charge up to five HDTV
signals provided by cable networks or local TV stations or other 'valued-added
DTV programming,' which the FCC said included 'innovative multicasting.'

Although 1.2 million-subscriber Insight intends to carry both cable and
broadcast HDTV signals, Willner said he would be concerned if the Powell plan
became a mandate to carry dozens of multiple digital signals provided by TV
stations in a market.

'But that doesn't necessarily mean that [TV stations] have a right to
multiple streams of television to compete against cable networks as a government
mandate,' he said. 'I disagree with that concept.'

Some TV stations are planning to offer HDTV during primetime and multiple
digital-TV signals during other dayparts.

The National Association of Broadcasters is lobbying the FCC to require cable
carriage of an eligible station's entire video stream, whether it includes one
free HDTV signal or multiple free standard-definition streams.

Willner, chairman of the NCTA's board of directors and executive committee,
applauded Powell for offering a road map to advance the digital-TV
transition.

'The Powell approach is not a regulatory approach to this: It is suggestion
on how the industries might come to voluntary agreements,' he said. 'I support
the chairman's efforts to help us find that way.'

Asked whether the Powell plan was voluntary in name only, Willner replied:
'You mean, is my arm being twisted?'

He followed that answer by indicating that cable and the other affected
industries need to come together or expect a forceful response from
regulators.

'If it doesn't work, then I don't know what the next step would be, but I
would not be surprised if there weren't going to be some heavier suggestions
coming out of Washington,' Willner said.

NCTA president Robert Sachs said he expects to issue a 'comprehensive
response' to the Powell plan either before or during the trade group's
convention in New Orleans May 5 through 8.

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