NCTA to FCC: Let market rule carriage

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The market should govern carriage agreements between broadcasters and cable operators, NCTA told the FCC on Thursday.

The association cited economist Dr. Gregory Rosston of Stanford University, who says broadcasters will not air quality digital programs if the government requires cable operators to carry them. "In the absence of a digital must carry requirement, local over-the-air broadcasters might improve the quality of their digital offerings to get on the system," Rosston wrote. "With a digital must carry rule, it is possible that local over-the-air stations will have a reduced incentive to invest in the quality of their digital programming."

Broadcasters rebut this argument, saying "the stations that cannot reach voluntary carriage agreements are the ones in the most need of must carry's access to the audience to build their DTV futures," in joint comments of NAB, ALTV and MSTV. Broadcasters argue cable operators now have more capacity than ever available to carry broadcasters' signals, and so far have shown little willingness to cut deals in the marketplace. Further, broadcasters say a drawn-out transition period ultimately will harm the industry as stations bear the costs of simultaneously operating two stations.

Consumer electronics manufacturers agreed with broadcasters. "Without assurance that digital broadcast signals will reach the 70 million American households that rely on a cable signal, broadcasters and programmers will have little incentive to produce compelling digital programming," said Michael Petricone, vice president of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association.

CEA also agrees with broadcasters and some media companies, such as the Walt Disney Co., that cable operators must not be allowed to pick and choose which advanced and interactive services are passed along to consumers. "These options and services are the very future of television," Petricone said. - Paige Albiniak

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