Digital must-carry order not ready


The Federal Communications Commission has no consensus yet on how to finally
settle the debate over cable carriage of broadcasters' digital-television
signals. Despite an effort by agency chairman Michael Powell, a proposal to
resolve the longstanding dispute is not on the agenda for the Sept. 12 meeting,
which was released Thursday.

The FCC is widely expected to conclude that broadcasters are entitled to
cable carriage of the entire free portion of their signals. But still in the air
is how strongly worded that conclusion will be.

In an effort to win consensus, Powell had backed off a proposal that would
have left little doubt that the commission considered mandatory carriage of all
free programming as the way to go but sought comment on the constitutionality of
that decision. But a less definitive version failed to win a three-vote
coalition necessary to win support.

With that issue unresolved, another contentious debate -- to decide on which
cable tier digital programming must be carried -- has been shelved for now.

One decision that appears solid: The FCC will once and for all reject
broadcasters' demand for carriage of both their digital and analog signals
during the transition.

In a positive for broadcasters, the commission appears set to forbid cable companies
from diminishing the quality of stations' digital signals.

Some broadcasters worry that cable systems will degrade signals that are
offered in the highest-quality 1080i (interlaced) format or other high-resolution

Regarding next week's meeting, the FCC agenda as expected will kick off with a
comprehensive rewrite of the agency's broadcast-ownership