If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell is serious, TV stations are on the verge of losing a fight over one of their top Washington priorities -- winning cable carriage rights for each of the “multicast” channels that digital TV enables them to offer.
Wednesday, Powell told FCC colleagues that he wants them to vote against Paxson stations’ petition for full digital carriage rights.
If two of the other four commissioners agree, they would approve the idea at their Feb. 10 meeting. Paxson’s request has been pending at the FCC since 2001 and also seeks a guarantee that stations’ digital and analog channels both will be guaranteed carriage while the switch to DTV is under way. The company has asked federal judges to force a vote if the FCC doesn’t act soon.
FCC and broadcast sources question whether Powell is serious or whether he is just trying to scare the industry into accepting a separate plan to end the DTV switch by 2009.
It’s also unclear how he plans to come up with the three votes necessary to shoot down expanded carriage rights--at least three commissioners have openly voiced sympathy for expanding digital carriage rights.
His proposal also puts him at odds with agency Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree, who has speculated that greater carriage rights might be the sweetener needed to convince TV stations’ to accept a quick deadline for going all-digital and return their old analog channels to the government.