Florida Reps Push Multicasting Must-Carry

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A dozen Florida representatives, eight Republicans and five Democrats, have sent a letter to ranking House Commerce Committee members Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman, and John Dingell (D-Mich.), asking that they include a multicasting must-carry provision in any telecommunications law introduced this year. A rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act is planned for markup in the next couple of weeks.

Multicast must-carry would require cable to carry all of a broadcasters free digital signals. Cable counters that it should only have to carry a digital replica of the analog channel, a reading of the law that the FCC has upheld, which is why broadcasters are seeking help from Congress.

Barton told a group of broadcasters last week that the multicasting must-carry and other DTV-related provisions stripped, or never included, in a DTV hard date bill that passed earlier this year, are unlikely to make it into law this year. He said it was possible it could be rolled into the 1996 Act review, but said it was unlikely, and observers would agree, particularly given that Barton opposed multicast must-carry, as he did analog must-carry over a decade ago.

The legislators said that Florida is home to the country's "only general market independent broadcast network" (i, formerly Pa TV), as well as "many smaller, independent broadcasters, including locally focused, and several minority broadcast companies [Telemundo, for one, though that is owned by NBC U]." They argued the state is heavily dependent on niche programming from those small and independent sources.

"Unfortunately," they argue, "broadcasters not associated with a multi-media conglomerate will be unable to leverage other assets to secure multicast carriage of their signals in the digital environment and our state will lose important sources of local news, information, and entertainment."

Religious broadcasters and Spanish-language stations were active in lobbying for the letter, which will be sent to every member of the committee as well.

The group of broadcasters Barton was addressing last week was the National Association of Broadcasters legislative fly-in, where NAB Presdient David Rehr rallied the troops to essentially become a sales force for issues including multicast must-carry.

The signatories to the letter included Republicans Katherine Harris, Mark Foley, and Clay Shaw Jr., and Democrats Kendrick Meek and Alcee Hastings.

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