Barton, Upton Oppose Multicast Must-Carry


The multicast must-carry battle has turned into a turf war between the powerful Republican chairman of the FCC and the powerful Republican Chairmen of the House and Senate committees overseeing the commission.

Calling it a regulatory fiat that would "usurp Congressional authority," the chairmen of the House Commerce Committee and House Telecommunications Subcommittee are allied with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in their opposition to FCC Chairman Martin's effort to secure multicast must-carry for broadcasters.

In a letter to Martin earlier this week, Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said they opposed the move and said that it did not square with existing must-carry provisions in the Communications Act, and would be "contrary to the market-oriented philosophy that has guided communications policy during the Bush Administration."

Stevens hearlier in the day had said that it was the province of Congress, not the FCC, to decide the multicasting issue.

Pointing out that the DTV transition bill just passed did not include multicast must-carry, they argued that it would be "inappropriate for the commission to attempt to do so by regulatory fiat now."

"If Congress had intended to require carriage of multiple streams, it would have explicitly done so, either in the original must-carry provisions or in the digital television provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act," which was the vehicle for the DTV transition bill.

The FCC twice interpreted the must-carry rule as cable carriage of a single DTV version of a station's primary signal, not all the multicast channels it could fit into its DTV spectrum allocation.  "We agree," said Barton and Upton.

Martin is on the record backing an interpretation that all those should indeed be carried, and had planned a vote on reversing the decision, while putting out for comment other issues surrounding it, including cable downconversion/degradation of the broadcast signal.

Broadcaster's fortunes appeared to be on the rise after they were unable to get a multicast provision on either the Senate or House version of a DTV bill. Barton, for one, was on the record in opposition to multicast must-carry.

The multicast must-carry item had been expected to be on the June 15 FCC meeting agenda, and had even been put out for a vote on circulation, an electronic vote that does not require an open meeting. The FCC said Wednesday that its next meeting has now been moved to June 21.