Cable Says New Must Carry Proposals 'Nothing New'

Cable lobbyists criticized NAB's latest plan for DTV must carry this week, criticizing the organization for "glossing over" the burdens its proposal would impose on cable operators.

In a letter to the FCC, NCTA responded to NAB's new plan for DTV must carry filed with the commission last month. In the new plan, the broadcast lobby proposed a "transitional carriage rule" that included three parts:

* A station could elect must carry for the analog or digital channel and retransmission consent for the other channel or retransmission consent for both;
* A cable operator could drop a station's analog channel if the system carried the station's digital signal to all DTV receivers and downconverts the digital signal for analog receivers at no extra charge;
* A station could require must carry of both its analog and digital signal if the cable operator was unable to implement the second provision by Jan. 1, 2006.

NCTA says if cable operators chose the first option, they would be deprived of the choice of not carrying broadcasters' analog signal and said that the second option is the same as requiring an operator to carry both analog and digital signals. Either way, the NCTA said, the proposals are a "disguise" to require dual must carry, forcing cable operators to use more bandwidth.

"The only way to avoid consuming additional bandwidth for carriage of a digital signal in analog under the NAB/MSTV plan would be to take the extraordinary step of outfitting every customer's analog television sets with a digital to analog converter box," NCTA told the commission.

The association noted that of the approximately 250 million analog TV sets in use now, only 30 million are hooked up to a digital cable box. "Cable operators cannot be expected, from a practical, legal or financial standpoint, to purchase digital to analog set-top boxes for the remaining 145 million analog sets in their customers' homes," NCTA said.