New cable-carriage rules for local digital-TV broadcasts can be approved without a
deadlock-breaking fifth vote, Federal Communications Commission member Kathleen Abernathy told
Abernathy said negotiations with agency chairman Michael Powell and the two
other commissioners are progressing sufficiently for a three-vote consensus to
be reached soon.
The commissioners are said to be at a standoff over whether to stick with
current policy requiring cable to carry only one primary channel from local
stations or to grant broadcasters' demand for must-carry of the entire free
multicast-channel and data-service lineup that digital will make possible.
The debate, Abernathy said, isn't necessarily over what constitutes a
broadcasters' primary video signal: "You can take the word `video' and take it
to mean multiple bits of data," she said. The real question, she added, is whether
expanding cable-carriage obligation would violate free-speech rights or go
beyond the intent of Congress.
Abernathy and Powell have been reluctant to expand must-carry mandates,
according to sources, but commissioners Kevin Martin and Michael Copps are
Confirmation of FCC nominee Jonathan Adelstein would likely give one side or
the other the crucial majority vote.