NAB seeks to clarify multicast must-carry confusion in Congress

A letter last week from NAB president and CEO David Rehr to Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, seeks to set the record straight on digital multicast must-carry and to allay concerns he has raised with FCC chairman Kevin Martin on the issue.

In the letter, sent June 8, Rehr told Barton he believed the chairman’s objection to any FCC decision to prevent cable operators from removing multiple program streams from an over-the-air DTV signal were based on “frequently-repeated misinformation” from the cable industry.

According to Rehr, nothing in the Communications Act prevents the commission from mandating that cable systems carry broadcasters’ full multicast program stream. Further, the commission has determined that Congress has not compelled “a particular result” regarding multicast must-carry.

In the letter, Rehr pointed out that the cable industry’s track record of carrying digital multicast channels is poor and that the industry has a lock on the gatekeeper role. Citing recent data from independent research firm Decisionmark, Rehr told Barton that “as of June 6, 2006, only about 9 percent of commercial multicast channels currently receive carriage on any cable system.”

The NAB president also explained that independent program producers are more likely to be better served if multicast must-carry were mandated. According to Rehr, “large cable operators favor their own affiliated programmers” to the detriment of independent producers. Those same producers could benefit from multicast must-carry as broadcasters seek to find programming for their additional digital channels.

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