PxPixel
Must-Carry Reaches Fever Pitch - TvTechnology

Must-Carry Reaches Fever Pitch

The broadcast lobby is bracing for a court battle over multicast must-carry. After seven years, a court order and more than 1,200 filings, the FCC is set to render a decision on the issue next Thursday. The word on the street is that multicast must-carry will go down in flames, and moves by individual commissioners c
Author:
Publish date:

The broadcast lobby is bracing for a court battle over multicast must-carry. After seven years, a court order and more than 1,200 filings, the FCC is set to render a decision on the issue next Thursday.

The word on the street is that multicast must-carry will go down in flames, and moves by individual commissioners certainly support that outcome. Chairman Michael Powell hasn't budged, at least publicly, from his position that must-carry applies to only one signal, and Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Jonathan Adelstein both made overt hay about the carriage agreement reached between the NCTA and the APTS this week. See Cable, Public Broadcasters Reach Multicast Agreement .

Both are expected to side with Powell against multicast must-carry.

Speaking at a luncheon in Washington D.C., NAB Board Chairman Phil Lombardo said the NAB and would file a court appeal if multicast must-carry is denied.

Many mid- to small-market stations will go down the tubes without multicast must-carry, Lombardo said. Such a provision is their only opportunity for recompense when full-power transmission deadlines kick in this year. One general manager in the Midwest, for example, has estimated that cranking up his nine transmitters and nine translators to full power 100 percent of the time will add around $908,000 in operating costs. Lombardo, also the head of Citadel Communications, said two of his company's stations simply do not have the cash flow to sustain dual full-power signals.

Religious broadcasters, the majority of which are nonprofits, are similarly concerned. Dr. Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters organization sent a letter this week to President Bush, asking him to put the breaks on Powell's must-carry agenda.

"To single out this particular issue pertaining to broadcasters seems singularly inappropriate," Wright said. "Our concern is only that whatever decisions are rendered should be done in a comprehensive fashion."

The president, who delivered the keynote address at the NRB convention in 2003, has stayed out of the DTV fray for the most part, except for quietly coming out against a set-top converter subsidy late last year.

A dozen legislators also got into the act, urging Powell to give broadcasters 6 MHz of must-carry, regardless of how many video channels that entails.

"We believe a ruling required anything less than full carriage of a broadcaster's 6 MHz of spectrum would severely hinder small and independent broadcasters from competing in the marketplace and threaten a diversity of ownership and programming," read a letter dated Feb. 1. It was signed by Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), J. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), Mark Foley (R-Fla.), Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Claw Shaw (R-Fla.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and Henry Bonilla (R-Texas).

The cable lobby is by no means sitting on its thumbs while the broadcast team rallies support. On Monday, the NCTA staged an event at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to unveil a multiple-signal carriage agreement worked out with public televisions stations. The NCTA has contended all along that must-carry applies to only one signal, and that any additional carriage should be worked out between cable operators and broadcasters.

Although he may banish the phrase "multicast must-carry" from his personal lexicon once he has officially retired as the chief of the NCTA, Robert Sachs fired off yet another ex parte missive to Chairman Powell on Thursday reiterating the lobby's legal arguments against it. I.e., "primary," as set forth in the existing must-carry regulation, means one, and only one signal, and that no diversity, public service or legitimate government interests will be advanced by denying multicast must-carry.