Martin renews call for digital multicast must carry

Speaking at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said encouraging broadcasters to begin multicasting additional free TV channels “could fundamentally change for the better” how the DTV transition plays out.

Pointing to the German experience in Berlin where the number of OTA free channels jumped from 12 to 27 with the conversion to digital, Martin said “the opportunity to receive more free channels drove people to proactively purchase converter boxes.” Rather than seeing the need for a digital-to-analog converter box as a burden, German consumers sought out the boxes to receive the additional channels.

The chairman pointed out during his address that the Hispanic portion of the population in the United States disproportionately relies on over-the-air broadcast reception of television. If broadcasters — specifically those serving the Spanish speaking U.S. population — began multicasting additional channels of entertainment, news and other programming, this sizeable portion of the total over-the-air TV audience would, like Berliners, have an incentive to seek out the converter boxes needed post DTV transition, he said.

Both Univision and Telemundo have expressed their desire to begin multicasting additional channels of Spanish-language programming to the commission, he said. However, the economics of multicasting multiple new channels will not work unless cable operators are compelled by the government to carry those new channels, Martin said.

“Without the guarantee of cable carriage, Spanish language broadcasters are not able to invest in creating a second or third free programming stream,” he said.

The FCC chairman pointed out that requiring cable operators to carry broadcasters’ digital multicast channels “would take up at most 3MHz of capacity on the cable system” per call letter station. “Moreover, there is a statutory cap on the amount of capacity that cable operators could be required to use to carry broadcast programming, and a multicast must carry requirement would not alter that cap,” he said.

Martin told his audience that 16 months ago he approached fellow commissioners about taking action to compel cable companies to carry free multicast broadcast channels, but the item remains pending. Martin said he is “hopeful” that a majority of the commissioners can be persuaded to see the potential benefit of pursuing this path.

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