Martin builds digital multicast must-carry case before House subcommittee

FCC chairman Kevin Martin last week told a House subcommittee that compelling cable operators to carry the multicast digital channels of broadcasters would make DTV multicasting financially viable for broadcasters and give consumers an incentive to make the switch.

During a hearing Oct. 17 of the House Committee of Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the chairman built the case of digital multicast must carry, much as he did Oct. 2 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Conference, contending that giving viewers more programming on multicast channels will transform consumer perception about the DTV transition from a negative to a positive.

“I believe that the ability to view new broadcast channels would facilitate the transition by providing people with an incentive to get a converter box,” he told the subcommittee. “As things stand today, over-the-air consumers must purchase a converter box just to maintain the status quo … . But what if instead the message to consumers was, ‘If you get a new digital television or a converter box, you will be able to watch a wide array of new free programming?’”

Martin pointed to the success of the DTV transition in Berlin, where 12 analog channels were replaced with 27 digital channels, which gave Berliners an incentive to welcome the transition.

According to the FCC chairman, there is no economic model supporting a free programming stream over-the-air without concurrent carriage of the stream on cable. Martin proposed rules requiring cable carriage of free DTV multicast channels 16 months ago, but so far the commission has not taken up the matter, he said.

“Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that a majority of Commissioners will realize the potential this item has to minimize the burden that the DTV transition places on consumers and allow Americans to realize the full benefit of the digital transition,” he said.

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