Cable Pushing Back on Class A Upgrade Plan

Comcast is fighting an expected proposal by the FCC to let Class A broadcasters upgrade to full power, a reclassification that would grant the stations mandatory carriage rights on local cable systems.

Oct. 2, reps of the nation's top cable operator met with lawyers for Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to argue that expanding must-carry rights would be counter-productive and legally impermissible.

Comcast also said any increase in must-carry burdens takes away bandwidth at the expense of HDTV, VOD and other offerings, according to the company's filings on the meetings.

FCC Chairman Martin has teed up the issue for the commission's Oct. 15 meeting.

The American Cable Association, representing smaller cable systems, also weighed in against the plan in an Oct. 3 visit with Martin's counsel. The ACA said a better route to diversity in programming would be to strictly prohibit bundling of channels by the big content providers.

Representatives of Low-Power and Class A stations have praised the upgrade plan, as did the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which said it would enhance diversity and localism in television.

"Class A stations offer the best opportunity for minorities, women and small business to participate and compete in the television industry, which is increasingly consolidated with few opportunities for minority broadcasters," MMTC wrote the commission. "Class A stations have the largest percentage of minority and female ownership of all the broadcast services, and are valuable assets to the communities they serve. Further, about a quarter of these stations are multilingual, and many provide extensive local programming."

Oct. 10, low-power and Class A broadcasters announced they'd amassed the support of 150 community stations supporting the plan. In a conference call with reports, station officials said

They said the DTV transition and other factors are threatening the survival of the stations, many of which are the only source of news and information for the community they serve. For example, as cable companies migrate channels from analog to digital tiers to save bandwidth, the low-power options may be the first to move, shedding viewers as they go"

By adopting the proposal next week, "The FCC will create for essentially ifrst time the issues confronting the continued existence of Low Power TV," said Randy Nonberg, president and chief operating officer of Una Vez Mas, which operates Spanish-language stations.

In all, the proposal could enable hundreds of stations to apply for the upgraded status.