Reports of multicast must-carry vote send NAB into lobbying frenzy

Broadcasters are working hard to delay an FCC vote on digital must-carry

Broadcasters are conducting a fierce lobbying campaign in a last-minute attempt to persuade the FCC to require cable operators to carry all of their digital TV channels rather than a single primary program feed.

The effort came in response to news reports that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has proposed to FCC commissioners a ruling that would eliminate any multicast, must-carry requirement of broadcast programming for cable operators.

Under current rules, cable operators are required only to carry a television station’s primary signal. However, because digital technology allows a digital channel to be split into several program feeds, the broadcasters want to force cable operators to carry all the programming a station might choose to transmit. Cable operators oppose the multicast requirement, arguing it favors broadcast over cable-originated programming.

Powell has scheduled a vote on the issue for Feb. 10. It has been speculated that he has the support from fellow commissioners necessary to deny broadcasters both cable carriage of all their multicast digital channels and dual analog-digital must-carry during the transition to DTV.

Belo Broadcasting, an independent station owner, has personally joined the fray, asking Congress to delay the vote due to the upheaval within the FCC. Belo Chairman Robert Dechard has sent a letter stating that the House and Senate Commerce Committees should wait until a new FCC chairman is named.

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