Local broadcasters will attack cable companies in an ad they are taking out in several Capitol Hill papers next week.
The National Association of Broadcasters is arguing in the ad for congressionally mandated cable carriage of all of a broadcaster's multicast signals.
The FCC has refused to mandate such carriage, but suggested Congress could weigh in on the subject if it felt differently. Broadcasters see that carriage as the key to having a multi-channel arsenal to compete in a multichannel world, cable sees it as a government hand-out that compromises its editorial freedom.
The NAB ad features a remote control with the buttons arranged in a frown and only "on" and "off" buttons labeled. "Here is the only choice cable companies want you to have," the ad begins, ending with "Congress should require the cable monopolies to give viewers all the choices broadcasters offer."
In between, the ad says "You should be able to receive three, four, five, or even six channels from each local station. So consumers might get a channel for 24-hour local weather, another with your prime time lineup, another with foreign language simulcast, and still another with expanded coverage of local news, entertainment or even high school athletics.
"But you won't get these choices no matter what you pay for cable or satellite service if the giant cable monopolies get their way."
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association wasn't available for comment (it was Sunday night), but cable companies have argued that they do not have the capacity to carry all the multiple channels of multiple stations in a market (potentially 100 broadcast channels in a market like New York) and not have to bump some programming it might prefer to carry, like niche networks or the "third rail" of cable public affairs programming--C-SPAN.
Cable also argues that, rather than local weather, high school sports and a House of Delegates version of C-SPAN, broadcasters will air infomercials and other programming of little interest to their subs.
The broadcasters' rebut the capacity issue in the ad: "They [cable operators] claim they lack the capacity to carry these additional channels," says the ad. "That's just not true. Theyr'e charging you for 'system upgrades but refusing to let you see anything other than what they choose."
The ad coincides with two planned Senate Commerce Committee hearings on the digital transition July 12, including the contentious issue of multicasting must-carry. The first hearing will feature representatives of both NAB and the cable industries, so some sparks could fly.
There was no draft DTV legislation out of the Commerce Committee at press time.
The House Commerce Committee has the rough outlines of a bill, but the Democrats have yet to sign off on issues including multicast must-carry, a hard date for the give-back of analog spectrum and a possible subsidy for digital-to-analog converter boxes for viewers without DTV sets.