NAB, NCTA Clash Over DTV Transition

Cable association fires back as broadcasters accuse cable industry of sowing confusion on DTV transition to boost billing.

The major cable and broadcast associations were firing salvos at each other Wednesday over the DTV transition, but with a subtext of ongoing rancor over the issue of issue of retransmission consent.  

Prompted by a Consumer Reports story criticizing the cable industry for moving channels from analog to digital without lowering the price for the analog tier, the National Association of Broadcasters suggested the FCC might need to investigate the industry.

The magazine accused the cable industry of trying to use confusion about the DTV transition to boost cable bills. "The cable industry has been assuring cable customers that they won't be affected by the transition. Apparently that's not the case" it wrote. 

“If true, the Consumer Reports allegations raise disturbing questions about the cable industry that might be worthy of an FCC review." said National Association of Broadcastsers spokesman Dennis Wharton.

"While broadcasters have donated a billion dollars in airtime and education to ensure a seamless transition to digital television," he said, "some in the cable industry seem to view DTV as merely an opportunity to raise rates. Consumers deserve factual information about the DTV transition from cable MSOs, not more confusion and higher bills."  

But the National Cable & Telecommunications Association was having none of it.

“NAB’s statement is both bizarre and petty," responded NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz in an e-mail to B&C. "Perhaps NAB should spend more time talking with their member broadcast stations who are working cooperatively and constructively with local cable operators to assist consumers with the digital TV transition.

"Even though the broadcast digital transition only pertains to over-the-air stations, we were the first industry to announce and execute a comprehensive $200 million campaign that promoted the government’s converter box coupon program, which only benefits owners of TVs that receive over-the-air signals. 

"And the largest cable operator – with the public encouragement of many NAB members – just announced an offer of one-year of free basic cable to help consumers manage the broadcast transition.” (See related story.) 

Dietz took the opportunity to weigh in on the retransmission consent, where current and potential contentious negotiations and a split over the need for an extended "quiet period" during the DTV transition have the two industries at loggerheads. 

"Let’s face it," said Dietz, "this is a pathetic attempt to use the digital transition to mask the obvious desire by some stations to impose many millions of dollars for what is otherwise free over the air TV by misuse of retransmission consent.”