Public television, NCTA announce digital multicast carriage agreement

Cable systems with 750MHz of available capacity will implement the agreement with 180 days of its ratification

The Association of Public Television Stations and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association Monday announced a 10-year agreement committing cable system operator nationwide to carry multicast digital signals from local public broadcasters.

The agreement covers pre- and post analog switchoff. Before stations relinquish spectrum used for their analog service, cable systems with 750MHz or more of activated channel capacity offering HD or other digital programming must commit to carrying up to four streams of free non-commercial digital broadcast programming from one public TV station in the market in addition to that station’s analog signal.

After analog switchoff, cable systems with that much capacity offering HD programming will carry free non-commercial digital programming of each public television station in the market that’s entitled to analog must-carry rights. This includes up to four streams of free non-commercial digital HD and SD programming and associated material. The only limitation pertains to duplicate material.

APTS President John Lawson and NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs announced the plan during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Cable systems within 750MHz of available capacity will implement the agreement with 180 days of its ratification. Ratification by MSOs representing 80 percent of cable subscribers and public television stations in markets with 80 percent of U.S. TV households must occur within 60 days of approval by the boards of the APTS, PBS and the NCTA. The NCTA and PBS board of directors are expected to take action on the agreement this week.

The National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Edward O. Fritts called on the cable industry to use the agreement with public television stations as a guide to resolving multicasting issues with commercial broadcasters.

The FCC is expected to take up digital must-carry during a meeting Feb. 10. Outgoing Chairman Michael Powell has made his opposition to the concept of extending must-carry obligations to broadcasters’ multicast channels well known. Reports have indicated that he may have a majority of commissioners on his side to settle the matter in a manner that most broadcasters would find to be unfavorable.

Belo Chairman, President and CEO Robert Decherd sent a letter to Powell urging him to leave the issue of must-carry and digital multicast channels up to his successor. (Read “Belo chairman urges Powell to leave multicast issue to successor” for more details about the letter.)

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