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Multicast must-carry plan on FCC’s agenda

November 22nd, 2007

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s latest plan to force cable carriage of broadcasters’ multicast channels appears to be advancing. At its November 27 public meeting, the commission will address “initiatives designed to increase participation in the broadcasting industry by new entrants and small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses.”

Under a plan circulated by Martin, station owners would lease out some of their excess digital TV channel capacity to new participants, and cable companies would be required to add the channels to their systems. (With the move to DTV, each local station is capable of broadcasting separate programming over five or six channels simultaneously.)

John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable writes:

Minority advocates and Hill and FCC Democrats have been underwhelmed by the proposal, with some picking up on the phrase popularized by FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein that it is akin to spectrum “sharecropping.” But Martin likely has two other Republican votes for the plan.

Can Martin’s scheme deliver on its implied promise of more diverse programming? That will depend, in large measure, on which particular entities sign leases to rent part of the public airwaves from broadcasters. What troubles me is the wording of the FCC’s agenda—which appears to suggest that “new entrants” needn’t necessarily be small or minority- or woman-owned businesses at all.

For the plan to be effective, the commission must create conditions that encourage the granting of leases to diverse, locally based ownership groups that will serve the public interest.

Related:
Are HDTV and multicasting competing technologies?

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