FCC's Martin Backs Broadcasters

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FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had some encouraging words for broadcasters last week, saying cable and satellite should not be able to downgrade broadcaster’s digital signals, and putting in a plug for multicasting and mobile broadcasting applications.

That came in a thumbnail view of the "state of the media" for B&C, in which he concentrated on the state of the over-the-air media and the importance of the digital transition.

Saying that the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition date "probably isn’t circled on most people’s calendars, but should be," he said that policymakers should make sure that the transition meets the law’s [The Communications Act’s] "basic requirements that the digital signal be viewable by all TV watchers, and that it not be materially degraded by a cable or satellite provider."

Martin, who tried last summer to require cable operators to carry all of a broadcasters’ free digital programming streams, put in a good word for those multicast channels, stressing their importance to broadcasters’ continued viability.

"Broadcasters also have the opportunity to use digital technology to offer consumers new services, including providing several free programming streams at once and data services," he said, adding that "[f]ully utilizing their digital spectrum opens new revenue streams to broadcasters, enabling them to better compete in the dynamic media environment in which local programming faces stiff competition from cable, satellite and internet offerings."

Martin was high on the prospect of mobile broadcast applications, which Samsung was showing off at the Consumer Electronics show earlier this month.

"One of the most exciting opportunities afforded by the transition could be the realization of mobile video," said Martin, who suggested the combination of localism and mobility could be a winning one.

"Broadcasters may choose to use part of their spectrum to transmit their unique local service to cell phones for instance. Local weather, traffic, and sports, or perhaps school closings during winter snow storms," he said, "is exactly the type of content viewers will want to watch on their handheld devices."

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