Martin comes out strong for multicast must-carry


At the latest House hearing on the DTV Transition, Kevin Martin said that broadcast multicasting was an excellent way to make consumer acquisition of digital equipment a positive rather than a negative sell, and that it should be emphasized as we move toward the DTV deadline. He advocated a multicast must carry requirements for cable operators.

Ed Markey (D-MA) told Martin at the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that he is the quarterback of the DTV transition. If he gets his multicast plan through, he will be a very popular player at NAB, but not so much over at NCTA.

Martin said that the pitch to consumers currently in place — upgrade of lost service — is negative. He said that broadcaster’s ability to provide extra streams of programming, with no additional spectrum required, at no extra charge, was a positive reason for consumers to upgrade. He said this was the approach used in Germany’s successful DTV transition.

At least one representative, Nathan Deal (R-GA), will oppose such a requirement, saying that what channels are and are not carried on a cable system is best determined by the free market. He called such a proposal "disturbing" and also asked for a digital/analog dual carriage exemption for small cable operators.

Greg Walden (R-OR) reported that converter box coupons will look just like a gift card, a good thing he said since it will be familiar to most consumers. Fred Upton (R-MI) noted that there will be so many bright lights being focused on the transition, including major efforts by stakeholders, that he expects a relatively easy transition.

TVBR observation: If you look at broadcast must-carry as a station’s right to occupy a given slice of bandwidth, then it should not matter to the cable operator how the station uses its slice. If it’s broadcasting in high-definition, it uses all of it for one stream. If it isn’t in high-def, it can fit more stations into the same slice. It is a settled matter that broadcasters have a right to their slice of a cable system, and it follows that a cable operator must simply pass along what the broadcaster is putting out. Period.