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Martin: Multicast Carriage in Play

by Leslie Stimson~ April 26, 2006


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin yesterday described the Commission's 2005 denial of multicast DTV must-carry as a "missed opportunity," telling broadcasters, "If a majority was willing to look at that, I think that that would be an important opportunity before 2009."

Martin's remarks were made during a one-on-one interview with NAB Joint Board Chair Bruce Reese, president and CEO of Bonneville International, during the annual FCC Chairman's Breakfast, sponsored by AG Edwards.

It was back in February 2005 when the FCC denied multicast must-carry under Chairman Michael Powell, with then-Commissioner Martin providing the lone dissent.

During the ruling, Martin said, ". . . I think the record is replete with examples of the free programming services that broadcasters want to be able to provide, including more local news, local weather, local sports, coverage of local elections, and government proceedings and foreign-language programming."

During Tuesday's panel discussion, Martin said that one major goal of the FCC is to clarify the rules related to the transition to digital, for both TV and radio.

After all, Reese said, "You're the one consumers will complain to," referring to the industry's ongoing goal of educating consumers about the DTV transition before the 2009 analog cut-off date.

On the radio side, two issues were addressed. The first was the commission's treatment of satellite radio as those licensees creep toward offering local services. The radio industry is especially worried about satellite radio getting local advertising revenue, Reese said.

Martin said satellite radio is envisioned as a national service.

"The commission has been diligent as far as the satellite providers, to put conditions on their translators," Martin said. "We've put conditions on them in the past and that will continue."

Satellite radio provides a valuable service and will continue to be in demand, Martin believes. Broadcasters' strength, however, is that they provide a local service. "We don't want everything to turn into a national service," Martin said.

The other radio-specific issue discussed was the "thousands," according to Reese, of FM translator and low-power FM applications pending at the agency, and whether AMs that have reduced power at night could apply for some of these translators to fill in their coverage areas.

The FCC is balancing the needs of competing applicants for the same spectrum, said Martin.

"All of these are opportunities for listeners to get information from one of these different sources. When you have competing demands for spectrum, the commission has to prioritize them. Hopefully there will be a way to address it that balances all of those services," he said.

Reese also asked the chairman to expand on his thoughts about public interest issues related to broadcasters.

Martin said broadcasters have historically done a good job in this area.

"I have great confidence broadcasters have been giving a lot of service to their local communities," Martin said. "Broadcasters would be better served to collect that information in a systematic way. It would help demonstrate to the public what you are doing, not on an individual basis but on a collective basis."

Reese said such efforts have been met with skepticism in the past, and Martin said providing greater detail about the broadcasters' public service efforts would help.

Martin said he had no insight as to when Congress would move on the confirmation of nominee Robert McDowell as the fifth commissioner.

© 2006 NAB