Pubcasters Call for Cable Carriage

Public broadcasters have been trying to gain carriage of their digital and multicast offerings on cable systems for years. But only Time Warner Cable and Insight, covering 20 percent of the country, have made deals to carry the noncommercial content.

So the Association of Public Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS are seeking FCC intervention, trying to thaw what they call the "glacial" pace of marketplace adoption on digital channels.

The groups' proposal to the FCC is to mandate cable carriage for noncommercial broadcasters' digital and analog streams, starting with cable systems of 750 MHz or more capacity. They also offer a cap of 28 percent on the capacity a cable system would have to devote to carriage of all broadcasters' signals. Under the proposal, the arrangement would sunset when all a cable system's subscribers, digital and analog, have equipment to view the channels.

The groups also repeated broadcasters' long-held stance that cable carriage should include multicast digital streams, where broadcast.

"The future of public television depends on a successful roll-out of digital broadcast services--a mix of HDTV and multicast offerings," the groups wrote in a letter to Powell.

The cable industry has consistently opposed mandatory carriage of more than a single channel.

"Our proposal would boost the DTV transition immediately by connecting millions of cable subscribers to public digital television services," APTS President and CEO John Lawson wrote. "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.

"Ever since the transition began, cablers have found a thousand excuses to say no to public television's services. We hope Chairman Powell will find a way to say yes, and allow cable homes to benefit from the community connection provided by public television."

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said that they had not reviewed APTS's latest dual must carry proposal but added that cable operators are voluntarily carrying public TV stations' digital signals in markets including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis- St. Paul, San Diego, Omaha, and Washington, D.C. among others.

"The reality is the cable channel capacity is tight, even on upgraded systems," NCTA said. "Cable operators already provide every one of their customers with analog versions of public television stations in their markets--including, in many markets, multiple public TV stations."