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Chairman to push digital-analog must-carry

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has set the FCC’s Sept. 11 meeting for another attempt to get passage of digital-analog must-carry. If passed, the controversial measure could force pay-TV operators to transmit broadcasters’ signals in digital and analog after the 2009 analog shutoff.

In a letter to the FCC last week, the American Cable Association (ACA) called “the proposed triple carriage” order “both fiscally and technologically infeasible for all small and medium-sized operators to offer the broadcasters’ signals in high definition, standard definition, and analog after February 17, 2009.”

Based on current market prices, a small cable operator would have to invest $143,500 in equipment and labor to pass along seven must-carry stations’ HD stream to its subscribers in HD, SD and analog, the ACA said. “For a system that serves only 5000 subscribers, these costs are significant. For smaller systems, the cost per subscriber to comply with a triple-carriage obligation would exceed the asset value of the entire cable system.”

On the satellite side, EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen told the FCC his Dish Network service is several years away from having the necessary capacity to carry local stations in both HD and SD digital formats.

“Today, we carry all the must carry stations in standard definition in 175 launched local markets, and will continue to do so after February 2009,” EchoStar told the FCC. “Dish Network will not, however, have the spectrum, satellites, or resources in February 2009 to provide all must carry digital signals in high definition. Designing and constructing new satellites — upon the availability of new spectrum — is a four or five year proposition.”

Ergen was so concerned about Martin’s initiative that he met with three FCC members face-to-face last week to voice his concern.