Public stations revive digital dual-carriage fight

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Public TV stations are renewing their call for Federal Communications
Commission rules mandating carriage of local broadcasters' digital signals
during the transition to digital TV.

In a letter to agency chairman Michael Powell, PBS, the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting and the Association of Public Television Stations revised
their June 2001 digital-carriage request.

Thursday they called for the FCC to require cable systems to carry both the
digital and analog signals of TV stations in their markets as long as the
mandate would not account for more than 28 percent of any system's channel
capacity.

Systems with less than 750-megahertz capacity would be exempt, and no cable systems
would not be required to carry "duplicative" programming.

The mandate would expire when all of a system's subscribers could either view
digital broadcast signals directly or in a downconverted analog format.

"Market forces are not sufficient to achieve the statutory 85 percent DTV-penetration level anytime in the foreseeable future," the groups wrote.

They floated a similar plan 20 months ago calling for phased-in
cable-carriage obligations based on market size, the availability of digital
signals and a cable system's channel capacity.

Along with the National Association of Broadcasters, the public TV groups said
consumers will have no reason to buy digital sets until cable begins carrying
local digital-TV signals.

Stations, on the other hand, won't be able to end their analog broadcasts
until nearly all viewers can get digital signals.

The cable industry opposes any dual-carriage mandate, arguing that many
worthy cable networks would be bumped from channel lineups in order to make room for
the extra broadcast signals.

"The reality is that cable-channel capacity is tight, even on upgraded systems," responded the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "Cable operators already provide every one of their customers with analog versions of public television stations in their markets -- including, in many markets, multiple public TV stations."

Additionally, the NCTA noted that cable companies have agreed to carry public TV digital signals in New York; Los Angeles; Boston; Philadelphia; Las Vegas; Louisville, Ky.; Milwaukee; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; San Diego; Omaha, Neb.; Washington, D.C.; and other markets.

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