Another major media showdown is forming over must-carry, a highly controversial issue that the FCC will face in the coming weeks. Terrestrial broadcasters want the commission to require cable operators to carry both analog and digital signals during the digital transition. The FCC rejected this “dual-carriage” approach in January 2001, but the broadcasters are not giving up. They also want cable to carry any multicast streams they decide to launch.
In his opening remarks at the Western Cable Show last week in Anaheim, Calif., Robert Sacks, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), came out swinging on must-carry.
“On cable’s plate in Washington is the push by broadcasters to get the FCC to require cable operators to carry digital duplicates of every analog broadcast signal, plus multiple new channels for every broadcast station,” Sacks told the cable industry audience. “Rather than compete in the market on the basis of quality and value as other programmers do every day, broadcasters want the government to guarantee cable and satellite distribution of every new service they launch.
“We believe that the FCC got it right three years ago when it preliminarily found that dual must-carry would be unconstitutional and that the statutory term ‘primary video signal’ conclusively means one and not multiple video signals. These, of course, are questions of law, not policy. But policy reasons also argue against dual must-carry and multicasting requirements. Consumers want more choices and greater programming diversity, not multiple channels from the same broadcast entities forced on them by the federal government.”