The National Association of Broadcasters is flying in almost a hundred broadcasters Sept. 8 to lobby members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees for multicast must-carry.
They had a similar fly-in in July, but half again as many members will be coming to town this time as a deadline for a DTV bill looms.
The committee's are working on legislation that would set a hard date for the transition from analog to digital broadcasting and NAB wants it to include a requirement that cable carry all of a broadcasters digital signal, including multiple channels.
While some committee staffers say a subsidy is almost a guarantee, as is some hard date in 2009, they have provided no similar handicapping of the prospects for digital multicasting must-carry, which the FCC has said it will not impose absent further direction from Congress.
The NAB pointed out that despite that decision, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is on the record as concluding that multicasting is in the public interest and that the capacity burden on cable would actually be less than it is now given digital compression techniques that squeeze more channels into less spectrum.
NAB also unveiled two studies, one on the economic benefits of multicasting, the other suggesting that 85% of broadcasters planned to offer some local programming with the extra spectrum.
A draft of a House DTV bill came out last spring, but a final bill was held up, in part because Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a must-carry provision.
NAB President Eddie Fritts said the association's legislative affairs staff has been putting the pedal to the metal in August to push for the provision. He says when the bill is done, he expects there to be provisions for a converter box subsidy for analog-only viewers, a hard date in 2009, and multicast must-carry.
NAB will also take out a two-page ad in Hill publications next week promoting multi-casting and taking a swipe at cable for opposing it.
Both Commerce Committees are shooting for a Sept. 16 deadline to have the bills to their budget committees. The DTV transition is part of the budget process because it includes an auction of the reclaimed analog spectrum that is expected to bring in billions to the treasury after the expected 2009 date (expected to be either January or mid-summer) for the return of that spectrum.
NAB used Hurricane Katrina as one example of the need for multicast must-carry.
Fritts said that only about a month ago, WDSU-TV New Orleans (one of the stations heavily impacted by the storm) launched a Weather Plus multicast channel, but that, according to the Times Picayune newspaper there, no cable system was carrying it, said Firtts. "You'd think that is something they ought to be carrying," said Fritts, "and [suggests] why Congress must act."
NAB reiterated its claim that "monopolist" cable companies are trying to protect themselves from the local ad competition they would be subject to from multicast channels.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz responded:
"NAB's tired rhetoric doesn't disguise the fact that broadcasters are asking the government for another handout that the FCC has already twice rejected, would harm diversity in programming and would do nothing to speed the digital TV transition.
"Instead of asking for another free ride, broadcasters should follow cable's lead and present a viable plan for ending the digital transition."