FCC Chairman Kevin Martin used the media ownership public hearing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to publicly push a new multicasting approach he had earlier pitched privately to minority media interests and broadcast and cable lobbies.
The hearing is one of six planned public forums on proposed media ownership rule changes, where the commission is hearing from broadcasters and their supporters as well as anti-consolidation activists.
In his public statement before the hearing , he said the commission needs to "find more opportunities for diverse viewpoints to be heard.
"Part of the problem is the limited number of channels available on broadcast television and radio and the high start-up cost of building your own station."
He pointed to low-power FM radio as one attempt by the FCC to increase that number of voices. He also said that it would allow small and independently owned businesses to lease some of an existing broadcaster's spectrum to distribute their own programming.
"Conversion to digital operations enables broadcasters to fit a single channel of analog programming into a smaller amount of spectrum," he told the crowd. "Often, there is additional spectrum left over that can be used to air other channels of programming.
"Small and independently owned businesses could take advantage of this capacity and use a portion of the existing broadcasters’ digital spectrum to operate their own broadcast channel. This new programming station would then obtain all the accompanying rights and obligations of other broadcast stations, such as public interest obligations and carriage rights."
That means those stations could assert must-carry rights, which would be a change from the current FCC policy which has established that broadcasters cannot assert must-carry for any digital channel except the digital replication of their analog channel.