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Noncoms and cable reach accord on HD carriage

The jury, not the mention the 8th Floor of the FCC, is out on the critical topic of multistream must-carry after the DTV transition as far as commercial broadcast and cable are concerned, but in the noncommercial arena, a settlement has been reached by negotiators for the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). Under terms of the agreement, major cable operators have pledged full high-def carriage for every public television station in America, and will carry up to four streams when the stations are opting to multicast.

APTS President/CEO John Lawson said, "This historic agreement achieves our single most important, strategic objective for ensuring universal distribution of Public Television's new digital channels. Public Television - - including APTS, CPB, and PBS - - has sought guaranteed cable carriage of our digital signals since the mid-1990's, and today we have achieved that goal. We hope this agreement will lead to an explosion of new digital content from public television."

NCTA President/CEO Robert Sachs added, "By working through numerous practical issues, this agreement gives public broadcasters and cable operators alike the ability to make long-term business plans without the uncertainties, litigation and costs that often accompany legislation and regulation. Because we are dealing with new technology and new methods of content distribution in a dynamic and rapidly changing multimedia environment, it wasn't easy to craft a long-term agreement that allows for future developments. However, I believe we've succeeded in doing so."

Two members of the 8th Floor quickly praised the agreement. Chairman Michael Powell said, "Today's announcement serves as a testament to both the public broadcast community's commitment to driving the DTV transition and cable operators' willingness to carry compelling digital broadcast programming to its subscribers. I also want to commend Commissioners Adelstein and Abernathy on their efforts to encourage this voluntary industry agreement."

Kathleen Abernathy also weighed in, saying, "Public broadcasters have been responsible for developing excellent children's programming and other content that benefits the public enormously, so I am extremely pleased that their innovative digital channels will be available to cable subscribers throughout the country. This agreement on the voluntary carriage of multiple programming streams represents an important milestone in advancing the digital television transition, and, just as importantly, it demonstrates the viability of market-based solutions."

RBR observation:
In the testy, ongoing battle over the same turf between cable and commercial broadcast television, the number of multicast streams on the table when the high-def is off is usually said to be six. Is this deal a roadmap to a possible compromise between the two media? The NAB was thinking along the same lines and issued this statement: "Because of government underwriting of PBS, it's easy to see why the

cable industry was motivated to reach this tentative agreement. By NCTA's own admission, cable gatekeepers are blocking consumer access to the digital and high definition signals of more two-thirds of all local television stations. We would hope that NCTA and its members would reconsider their hardline position and use the PBS agreement as a template for negotiating carriage of commercial DTV programming."

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