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Martin, LPTVers Fume Over Blocked Class A Initiative

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin expressed frustration Wednesday that the other four commissioners rejected his plan to make rules that could have provided Class A stations a clear path to full-power status.

The commission struck the item from its Wednesday (Oct. 15) meeting at about 4 p.m. Tuesday when Martin realized he did not have the votes to pass it. He said other commissioners supported a lesser measure—a notice of inquiry—that would have removed the potential for mandatory cable carriage for Low-Power stations.

"This provided nothing for Low-Power," Martin told reporters.

Martin said the plan has been circulating among commissioners since February and he suggested that pressure from broadcasters and cable companies had changed the view of some commissioners.

The plan would have enabled some Class A stations to apply for full-power status, under which they would then qualify for cable must-carry rights.

In a jab at Democratic Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, he said that some commissioners had previously voiced support for measures that would increase the diversity of broadcast voices, but now rejected his plan.

"They're not being straightforward," Martin said.

Spokesmen for Adelstein and Copps had no comment or did not return phone calls, but one FCC official said commissioners felt more information was needed on various issues including the local content the stations offered.

"Everyone wants the LPTV service to thrive in the digital age," the official said.

One concern involves the impact on media consolidation rules: More full-power stations could tip a market's status to allow a duopoly were none was previously allowed, for example.

The current version agreed to by four commissioners addresses the low-power industry more broadly (beyond just Class A stations) and addresses needs such as getting LPTV stations into core channels, the official said.

Representatives of Class A and Low-Power stations were angry at being strung along; many flew to the meeting in Nashville, Tenn., before learning the item was removed. Three commissioners maintained a quorum to proceed with an event on childhood obesity that was all that remained of the panel's mandatory monthly meeting.

Greg Martin, president of Watch TV in Portland, Ore., and a Community Broadcasters Association board member, said Martin has been the only individual at the FCC who has proposed anything to help the LPTV industry in a substantial way, and the items in the diluted plan don't do enough and "put the cart before the horse."

"Our industry doesn't even know how we're going to afford digital," Herman said. "The notice of inquiry is a waste of time and that's why the chairman doesn't want it."

He said big cable interests had apparently bent the will of Adelstein and Copps.

"These are men who have consistently supported localism [and] diversity of ownership," Herman said. Based on their longstanding support of community broadcasters, he said, CBA expected them to back the Martin plan.

The snub was the latest setback for LPTV, which faces potential loss of over-the-air viewers who fail to receive the analog stations with new DTV converter boxes.

He also expressed bewilderment that the cable industry would resist the NPRM.

"We're not insensitive to the cable industry," Herman said. "We've been trying for decades to work together. They've been stomping on us like a puppy."