State Cable Nets Sound Alarm Bells


The people running state cable networks want Washington to know they could
become an endangered species.

With the Federal Communications Commission potentially adding new digital-broadcast-carriage obligations for cable systems, regional public-affairs networks
such as The California Channel and Pennsylvania Cable Network could find it
tougher to gain slots within operators’ lineups.

"There’s always greater demand than there is capacity," said Bruce Collins,
general counsel for C-SPAN, the industry-funded Washington network on which 21 state
public-affairs channels are modeled. "That’s going to be true in the digital
universe, too."

Collins organized a visit Thursday to FCC commissioners and their staffs by
John Hancock and Brian Lockman, heads of the California and Pennsylvania networks,
and Michigan Government Television chief Bill Trevarthen.

The FCC’s Media Bureau has recommended that broadcasters be entitled to cable carriage of many of the multiple channels they will be able to offer over their digital signals.

The prospect is making cable nervous. With so much space eaten up by broadcasters, cable operators may be forced to rethink the expense of public-affairs networks, the state-network leaders told the FCC.

"We are the ones that are gravely at risk," Lockman said. "We don’t make cable any money; we cost them money."