Sunday Surprise: Multicasting Yanked


Kevin Martin has pulled the multicast must-carry item from the June 21 meeting agenda.

The move followed opposition from top House Republicans Joe Barton, chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton, chairman of the House Telecommunications Committee.

Both wrote Martin last week advising him not to proceed.

"The Federal Communications Commission announced that its proposed order regarding cable carriage of digital broadcast signals will not be considered at the Commission's June 21st monthly agenda meeting," the FCC said in a brief statment issued Sunday evening.  "The item was pulled from next week's agenda meeting. "There did not appear to be consensus for moving forward at this time," said FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper in an e-mailed statement.

Had the FCC voted to reverse two earlier decisions and require cable to carry all of a broadcasters' free multicast signals, it would have been a big win for broadcasters.

Martin late last month scheduled both the multicasting vote and the launch of a media ownership rule review, the same week B&C was preparing a story about the backlog of big issues at the commission, and on the even of the surprise confirmation of a fifth commissioner and third Republican  vote, whose absence had helped keep some big items off the agenda.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association was, not surprisingly, buoyed by the turn of events. 
" The FCC correctly decided this matter on the two previous instances in which it determined that multicasting mandates would be unwise," said NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow. "We believe multicasting mandates are harmful to consumers.  And we believe that marketplace and consumer demand - not the government - should determine what programming services are carried."
NCTA had reason to be doubly pleased. After a rough couple of weeks when program access requirements it opposed were added to a Senate telecommunications rewrite bill and Martin appeared to be holding the course on must-carry, the FCC's decision to pull the item was accompanied over on the Hill by the release of a draft bill with the program access provisions pulled as well.
The National Association of Broadcasters tried to accentuate what positive there was:  "We appreciate FCC Chairman Martin's steadfast support for more program choice, and we will continue to educate policymakers on the pro-consumer benefits of multicasting," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement. "A multicasting rule would provide an explosion of free local program choices for consumers, including public interest programming. If consumers are to enjoy the full benefits of digital television, cable operators must not be permitted to strip out the full DTV signal for anti-competitive purposes."