NCTA argues against must-carry for public station digital multicast

In a Jan. 21 letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) argued that cable operators have no obligation to carry digital public television stations during the transition from analog service, nor are they required to carry more than one main digital program stream, including program-related material, afterwards.

The NCTA letter was in response to an ex parte letter to the Commission from a group of public broadcasters led by the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) sent in early December. In the letter, the group argued that the Commission has the legal authority to grant broad digital carriage rights to noncommercial educational TV stations. (See the Nov. 18, 2003 edition of RF Update.)

"The overarching key difference is that public broadcasting in the United States is uniquely governed by the Public Broadcasting Act and a series of amendments enacted over a period of more than 30 years, which, taken together, mandate the universal distribution of noncommercial educational services to all Americans,” said APTS president and CEO John Lawson. “This statutory framework makes it clear that it is in the public interest for the Federal Government to ensure that all citizens have access to public television services by all technological means. Finally, public television's cable carriage rights arise under a unique statutory provision with its own distinctive language, statutory context, and history."

The NTCA argued that the public broadcasters’ assertion that “the statutory framework of the Public Broadcasting Act,” does not place an obligation upon cable operators to carry all public channels from all public stations. The cable association argued that the relevant legal language is found in the 1992 Cable Act.

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