Farmers Need Multiple Streams


A representative of corn and soy bean growers planted himself for a day or so inside the Beltway this week to lobby on the digital transition, pitching legislators—including senators Harry Reid and John McCain—on the need for multicast must-carry and a subsidy for digital-to-analog tuners.

Larry Mitchell, CEO of the American Corn Growers Association, is part of a group calling itself the Coalition for a Smart Digital TV Transition, with "smart" implying the mandatory cable carriage of all a broadcaster's multiple digital TV channels and aiding rural viewers in the transition. The group includes unions, minority advocates, and the affiliate groups of three of the Big Four (ABC is not a member).

The House and Senate are both considering bills to create new rules of the road for the digital switch, but neither has come up with one yet. Each are busy hashing out contentious issues like a hard date for the analog give-back and a subsidy for some, or all, of the viewers with over-the-air-only sets—some 70 million at the moment.

A refresher course: Farmers care about the digital transition because they depend on the sort of hyper-local weather and market information broadcasters are promising with some of their digital multicast channels. Plus, they don't want rural America to be "homogenized" the way urban America has become, says Mitchell.

Manuel Mirabal of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, another coalition member making the D.C. rounds, said that some of the more conservative Republican senators he met with—he did not name names—were backing a broad subsidy to provide DTV converters for analog-only sets rather than a means test (likely double the poverty level) for poorer viewers.

Mirabal says those Republicans were concerned that the DTV switch was another case of government "takings," saying it was a case of public airwaves being taken and redistributed, in this case to private as well as public use.

Mirabal said some were worried it was in the same vein as the recent Supreme Court ruling (Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.) that stretched the boundaries of eminent domain to allow the government to take private property for another private use if such "takings" served a greater public good.