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Cable, Religious Broadcasters Lock Horns on Must-Carry

The National Religious Broadcasters and other religious leaders are urging legislators to include multichannel must-carry requirements in pending DTV legislation before Congress. If such a mandate is not included, they said, it would deny the availability of family-friendly and community-oriented programming to the public.

Besides trying to preserve innovative programming consistent with the values of the American public, the religious leaders, including the heads of the Coalitions for America, Christian Coalition of America and Accuracy in Media, also said that Congress must preserve free, over-the-air local broadcast television and promote fair competition.

"Powerful cable companies profit most from programming that features profanity, sex and violence, and they do not want to be required to include family-friendly programming as part of their local menus," they said. "Without this action on the part of Congress, we will continue to see what some members of the FCC have called "the headlong race to the bottom" in television programming."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, on the other hand, says that current must carry laws are sufficient.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the NCTA said that the cable industry has already made concessions to religious broadcasters and other small broadcast stations that rely on "must-carry" for carriage on cable systems.

"This balanced approach significantly aids the transition by ensuring that all must-carry broadcast stations will retain valuable viewership during the digital transition," the NCTA said, which also reiterated its longstanding argument that imposing multicasting requirements in the digital age violates the Constitution.

"Government mandated multicasting requirements... would constitute a 'taking' of cable operators' private property, which, in the absence of 'just compensation' is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment," the association said.

If must-carry requirements are imposed on cable operators, the NCTA wrote, cable operators will be forced to use limited bandwidth to carry additional broadcasting streams, leaving less bandwidth for other digital services such as high-speed Internet, HDTV, Internet voice service and VOD.