MSTV, NAB propose new must-carry rules for DTV transition

The Association for Maximum Service Television and the National Association of Broadcasters have proposed a new must-carry rule to facilitate the transition to digital television that the associations argue will not require cable systems to carry more than one signal from any local TV station.

In a letter dated Nov. 25 to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the associations recommended the Commission institute a transitional carriage rule that requires:

  • A station to elect must-carry for its analog or digital channel and retransmission for the other channel, or retransmission consent for both the analog and digital channels.
  • A cable system to cease carrying a station’s analog channel if the cable system passes the station’s digital signal to all digital TV receivers and downconverts the digital signal for analog-only customers on the analog basic tier at no additional charge.
  • If, after Jan. 1, 2006, a cable system has not implemented changes to its facilities to implement the preceding paragraph, a station may elect must-carry of both channels, subject to the 33 percent statutory cap on a cable system’s total carriage capacity.

In the letter, MSTV president David Donovan and NAB CEO Edward Fritts contend that this plan does not raise constitutionally objectionable issues regarding a government requirement forcing cable systems to carry more than one signal from a single broadcaster “since the carriage obligation will be no greater in absolute terms than the obligations that were upheld by the Supreme Court in Turner and in terms of cable capacity will be relatively far less.”

If the commission postpones making it mandatory for cable systems to carry local DTV signals from broadcasters, the transition to digital television may deny local viewers access to the digital signals of local stations, the associations argued in the letter.

“Particularly as more and more consumers obtain DTV-capable equipment as a result of the initiatives the Commission has adopted, it is important that they be able to get the benefits of digital signals through their cable systems, including not only high definition programming but other new and innovative digital services.”

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