Martin Mulls 'Multicast Must-Carry'
Martin rekindled the debate on so-called "multicast must-carry, with his comments made Wednesday at a House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.
Background: Most television broadcasters are slated to transition from the current analog format to digital on February 17, 2009. In turn, the FCC is set to auction off the analog 700 MHz spectrum. Some broadcasters are expected to use their new digital spectrum to deliver services beyond the primary signal.
"The idea is simple: broadcasters should be able to, and be encouraged to, use the digital spectrum they already have to send multiple television signals to consumers for free," Martin said in his statement. For instance, a broadcaster could squeeze in an extra movie channel or specialty sports feed alongside the primary signal.
He argued that these additional services offer "a meaningful benefit" to consumers who get their TV signals over the air and will require them to purchase a special converter box to ensure that their analog televisions don't go dark after the cutoff.
Without a guaranteed carriage commitment, he added, that market stands little chance of flourishing.
"The only way we can make this a reality, however, is if the cable companies are required to carry these additional channels," Martin said. "As a result, without the guarantee of cable carriage, broadcasters are not able to invest in creating a second or third free programming stream."
Martin floated a multicasting carriage requirement for cable about 16 months ago but has been unable to drum up the necessary support for it so far.
The U.S. cable industry has been opposed to a mandate that forces MSOs to carry multicast services from broadcasters after the February 2009 transition. Following a ruling handed down in September, operators will be required to carry both a digital and analog version of all "must-carry" broadcast TV stations following the cutoff. That ruling is scheduled to sunset in 2012. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)
"Cable systems contend that marketplace negotiations – not government action – should determine which additional, or 'multicast' broadcast channels are carried," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) notes on its Website, pointing out that the cable industry and local public TV stations were able to carve out a deal on their own in 2005. However, that accord could be threatened by the FCC ruling handed down last month.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News