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Multi-channel must-carry continues to divide

After failing to win before the FCC last year, broadcasters are now desperately lobbying Congress to make multi-channel must-carry part of pending DTV legislation. The cable industry, contending it’s unconstitutional, is fighting it tooth and nail.

Multi-channel must-carry has even spilt two coalitions of public-interest advocates. One coalition — including Consumers Union and Free Press — opposes any multicast “must carry” mandate. There exists no compelling public policy reason for the multicast mandate, the group said in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce committees.

However, a rival group, the Campaign Legal Center sees it differently. They say no decision on must-carry should be made until and unless the committees have set forth provisions, which spell out meaningful and effective public-interest obligations for digital television broadcasters.

But both coalitions are concerned that the congressional committees could impose must-carry rules without firm obligations for public service.

Meredith McGehee, director of media policy at the Campaign Legal Center, told the National Journal that she is more concerned that broadcasters will do multicast must-carry and forget about their public-interest obligations.

Some consumer advocates suggested there might be benefits to tying public interest obligations to multicast must-carry.

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