Black Leadership Forum Opposes Spectrum-Leasing Proposal

Group Tells FCC Martin’s Proposals Would ‘Damage’ Minority Programmers’ Business Models

The Black Leadership Forum wrote the Federal Communications Commission arguing that a variety of proposals from FCC chairman Kevin Martin would "damage" the business models of minority programmers. One of those is a digital-TV spectrum-leasing arrangement the chairman circulated for a vote by the other commissioners and advocated at a recent minority media conference.

In the letter, the group took aim at cable a la carte, which they said would be "inimical" to minority programmers; at mandatory cable carriage of a broadcasters' multicast channels, which it called puzzling and unjustified; and at a proposal to lease DTV spectrum to designated entries including women and minorities, which it called a "consolation prize for all of the other FCC efforts to undermine minority programmers" that relegates them to second-class status.

At a speech to a Rainbow/PUSH minority media conference in Washington, D.C., last week, Martin argued that unbundling cable's programming at the wholesale level would benefit minorities. Although he did not include a direct pitch for a la carte, he did say that lowering cable rates -- which has been one of his reasons for pushing a la carte -- would be a benefit shared by minorities and others.

At the conference, Martin stumped for allowing minorities to lease DTV spectrum from TV stations, allowing them to create their own channels without the start-up costs of buying or building a station, which has been cited as one of the barriers to entry for minorities.

He also proposed lowering the leased-access rates and preventing exclusive contracts between cable or satellite companies and apartment buildings that preclude outside competition for rates and service, pointing out that some 40% of households headed by African Americans were apartments.

The forum’s members include the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus.