PTV’s Issues: Cable Carriage & DTV Revenue

To spur carriage of digital broadcast signals during the DTV transition, APTS, CPB, and PBS have called upon FCC Chairman Powell to step in and break the “logjam” once and for all.

“With more public digital stations signing on the air every week, time has run out on a marketplace solution to transitional cable carriage,” said lobbying group APTS president and CEO John Lawson. “The major limitation on public digital television’s ability to serve communities is whether or not cable gatekeepers will allow their subscribers to see what our stations have to offer during the DTV transition. However, after more than three years of negotiations, cable giants representing more than 80% of cable homes still refuse to sign national carriage agreements that would connect their communities to public television.

“Our proposal would boost the DTV transition immediately by connecting millions of cable subscribers to public digital television services. The proposal is fully constitutional, placing a far smaller carriage burden on cable operators than that allowed by the Supreme Court’s 1997 Turner II decision. And it would accelerate the return of analog spectrum to the government.”

In a final slap in the face to cable, Lawson said, “Ever since the transition began, cablers have found a thousand excuses to say no to public television’s services.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of public interest groups has appealed an FCC Order from October 2001, which allows non-commercial education (NCE) stations to use part of their digital spectrum for revenue-producing activities. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on March 10.

Lawson said the appeal doesn’t challenge the parts of the order that permit revenue from subscription services. Instead, the groups argue the law doesn’t permit any advertising on any part of public television’s spectrum.

“It really comes down to what is ‘broadcasting,’” Lawson said. The FCC has basically said that as long as any material that is broadcast is addressable to a specific receiver, then public broadcasters are allowed this spectrum flexibility. However, if data in any form is broadcast in the traditional sense, all current advertising restrictions continue to apply.