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Must-Carry Madness

Mark next Tuesday (Sept. 11) on your calendars, as it could hold serious ramifications for the cable industry as the U.S. creeps closer to the digital TV transition, set to occur on Feb. 17, 2009.

According to the agenda for that public meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote on a proposed rule regarding mandatory cable carriage of digital broadcast TV signals following the 2009 transition.

A report by Multichannel News suggests that the scheduling of the vote implies that FCC chairman Kevin Martin has the votes necessary to impose a dual-carriage mandate on cable operators.

The FCC has already proposed that cable operators either carry the signals of all must-carry stations in analog format to all analog cable subs (dual must-carry); or carry all signals only in digital format, provided that all subs have set-tops.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has already termed the all-digital option as a non-starter, and called the second "no option at all," because it would force operators to supply digital boxes for about 126 million analog TV sets at a cost of roughly $6.3 billion. (See Cable's All-Upset Over All-Digital.)

The American Cable Association (ACA) , meanwhile, reiterated its position this week that the proposed rule making would obligate most cable operators to offer must-carry channels in three formats -- high-definition, standard-definition, and analog -- and the associated costs would hamstring smaller cable systems. (See ACA Blasts FCC .)

Cable isn't the only industry grousing about the specter of a dual must-carry mandate. In a filing last week, EchoStar Satellite LLC warned of a potential capacity crunch if dual must-carry is imposed.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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