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Cable industry rejects Martin proposals

The cable industry rejected FCC chairman Kevin Martin's proposals to reinstate a cap on the audience reach of cable systems and to require multichannel operators to carry ancillary digital TV stations leased to minorities and small businesses.

Martin wants to resurrect a 30 percent cap that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned in 2001 after determining that the agency had not provided sufficient evidence to justify it.

The chairman is also attempting to mandate digital must-carry. Under current must-carry regulations, cable now must only carry each TV station's primary digital signal. Previous attempts to change must-carry rules have proven controversial and have failed.

The record before the commission and the marketplace does not justify a cap, Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) told the "National Journal." With telecom industry competitors consolidating and DBS companies growing stronger, a cap would not withstand scrutiny in court, he said.

As to digital must-carry for minority channels, McSlarrow said the cable industry has a "sterling record" in promoting media diversity, and it would be unfair to solve the diversity problems of broadcasters "on the backs of cable."

Martin told the "Journal" last week that the cap is warranted because cable rates have jumped 100 percent since 1996, and the industry is more concentrated. "There's been increasing regional consolidation by the cable operators, which raises concerns from our standpoint and makes it easier for them to potentially raise rates," he said. Consolidation also gives cable outlets more buying power to own and control content, Martin said.

The cable industry has long argued that it has a First Amendment right to choose which channels to carry. Cable industry executives have stated that a digital must-carry rule would result in channel redundancy, forcing systems to carry multiple local weather channels, for example, when one would suffice.