Frist Lobbied on Multicast Must-Carry


Invoking property rights and decrying what they saw as a public handout, a dozen conservative groups have sent a letter to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), advising against mandating cable carriage of broadcasters digital multicast signals.

The groups--including low-taxers, no-taxers and conservative think tanks--argue that multicast must-carry would impose an "unreasonable and likely unconstitutional burden on cable operators."

The groups (American for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Property Alliance among them) say that the move represents a massive seizure without compensation from broadcasters.

They label it a "likely" violation of the Constitution's takings clause (though the Supreme Court has recently given the government a freer hand with which to "take" following its decision to allow it to take private property for other private uses if deemed for the greater good).

"Cable operators have built large private infrastructures at enormous costs," they say. "To give braodcasters a free ride on the cable operator's private infrastructure would represent the worst sort of government mandate, and would fly in the face of the property rights protections found in the Constitution."

The decision awarding analog must-carry was a close 5-4 Supreme Court decision, and extending it to digital is one of the most heated debates on Capitol Hill these days. However, broadcasters have often pointed out that cable had some help as well. "Cable built its business on the backs of local broadcasters," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, "and has never adequately compensated us for our high-value programing."