NCTA Mocks NAB For "Free Ride'

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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association released a White Paper Tuesday taking aim at broadcasters' push for mandated cable carriage of their digital multicast signals.

The paper comes as Congress contemplates changes to the ground rules for the conversion to digital.

Taking off from the Edgar Winter lyric, "Come on and take a free ride," NCTA said that's what broadcasters are looking for, calling their desire for multicast must-carry and dual analog/digital carriage anti-consumer, bad public policy, and based on "false and misleading arguments."

Cable argues that the government should not be dictating what cable operators put on their systems, that carrying every stations full complement of digital channels will crowd out other networks their customers might prefer, that must-carry is likely to be struck down as unconstitutional, and point out that the FCC has already rejected dual and multicast must-carry.

As Congress prepares a bill that could advance the return of analog spectrum and set the new rules of the road for the digital transition, NCTA's wish list includes not forcing cable to carry mutliple streams of what it says is "duplicative" broadcast programming and allowing cable to downconvert digital signals to analog at their discretion.

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton responded to the White Paper: "Regrettably, NCTA rehashes tired old rhetoric in asking Congress to insulate the cable cartel from competition from local broadcasters and other programmers.

"Moreover, NCTA manipulates and misstates the facts on multicasting. The reality is that less -- not more -- cable bandwidth is needed to carry DTV broadcast signals than analog signals. Only 3 MHz of bandwidth is needed to carry a digital broadcast signal, while it takes twice that much -- 6 MHz -- to carry an analog signal. Thus, the 'capacity burden' on cable is considerably less with the transition to digital.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld cable carriage requirements in the analog TV world; DTV multicasting provides a new opportunity for Congress to dismantle cable's gatekeeper status and usher in a new era of program choice for America's local television viewers."

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