FCC to Impose Multicast Must-Carry - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 27 Old 06-15-2006, 03:07 PM - Thread Starter
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From Multichannel News, By Ted Hearn

The Federal Communications Commission scheduled a June 21 vote to impose multicast must-carry on cable operators, setting up cable for its worst policy defeat at the agency since the second round of programming-rate cuts in February 1994.

The agency has twice rejected multicast must-carry, but FCC chairman Kevin Martin has been determined to change policy. It appears that the 39-year-old Republican leader -- appointed by President Bush in March 2005 -- has the votes necessary to confer additional must-carry largess on the country’s 1,752 commercial and educational digital-TV stations.

Late Wednesday, the FCC released the June 21 meeting agenda with the multicast-must-carry item included. Martin would not have scheduled the vote if he expected to lose.

Under current law, TV stations that elect mandatory cable carriage are entitled to carriage of just one programming service. Multicast must-carry would expand the requirement to include every free programming service a TV station can pack into its digital bandwidth -- which could mean 6-12 programming services using current compression technology.

Cable operators and programmers are expected to take the FCC to court immediately, claiming that multicast must-carry violates their First Amendment free-speech rights far beyond the original purpose of the original 1992 must-carry law -- preserving free TV and promoting the widespread dissemination of information from a multiplicity of sources.

Cable is also expected to advance the Fifth Amendment argument that multicast must-carry takes private property without just compensation.

The FCC majority is expected to include Martin and Republican Deborah Taylor Tate. Republican Robert McDowell, while telling people he is undecided, is also expected to back Martin.

If McDowell refused to go along, Martin might try to lure Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein to his side with commitments to impose new public-interest-programming obligations on commercial broadcasters.

Cable’s nadir at the FCC came in February 1994, when the commission slashed cable rates 7% on the heels of a 10% rate cut the prior year. But after cable promised to pave Vice President Al Gore’s information superhighway, the agency gradually eased up on cable -- a process encouraged by Capitol Hill Republicans who seized control of the House and Senate in the November 1994 elections.

For more than one decade, cable has enjoyed a benign policy environment at the FCC. For example, the agency declined to modify leased-access rules to allow Internet-service providers to rent bandwidth; refused to impose ISP open access on cable; established cable-modem service as an unregulated information service; lifted at congressional direction rate controls on expanded basic in March 1999; and ruled that cable voice-over-Internet-protocol service could not be regulated by the states.

But since Martin's arrival, the climate has changed. He pressured cable operators to roll out family tiers while continuing to urge the industry to create more a la carte options. The FCC also has under a review a Martin-backed plan to ease phone-company entry into cable markets.

In the multicast-must-carry order, the FCC has many issues to resolve, including:

• Timing: The agency could time the effective date of the rules to coincide with the congressionally mandated cutoff of analog TV Feb. 17, 2009. The next must-carry/retransmission-consent election begins Oct. 1, 2008.

But that may not make sense because the FCC is expected to justify multicast must-carry on the need for a successful digital-TV transition.

Martin has said the availability of digital-TV multicast services would offer an incentive to consumers without pay TV connections to buy digital-TV sets with over-the-air digital tuners before the analog cutoff. Yet broadcasters have said they won't launch multicast services without guaranteed cable carriage.

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, to see the FCC allow digital-TV stations to exercise multicast-must-carry rights sooner rather than later.

• Rate regulation: Cable has argued that multicast must-carry -- by adding many more channels to the basic tier, which every consumer must purchase -- would result in higher cable rates. To prevent a political backlash to higher cable rates as a result of an FCC policy change, the commission might decide to impose a rate structure that assumes one signal per digital-TV station.

• Downconversion: The FCC is expected to launch a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the ability of cable consumers with only analog equipment to view digital broadcast signals. From the FCC’s perspective, what good would multicast must-carry do if 54% of cable subscribers that are analog-only couldn’t view them? This suggests that the agency might require cable to deliver multicast services in analog from the headend.

On the other hand, requiring the delivery of digital-TV multicast services in analog would take up a lot of cable bandwidth. As a concession to cable, the FCC could let cable deliver digital-TV multicast services only in digital, but require MSOs to inform consumers that additional local digital-TV services are available with the lease of a digital set-top box.

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post #2 of 27 Old 06-15-2006, 03:35 PM
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This will be tied up in court for years, if it even endures that long.

And should there be an administration change in 2008, a Democratic FCC chair would amost certainly revisit this topic and reverse it -- since it will apparently pass on a 3-2 vote with Democrats casting both dissents..

In addition, Rep. Joe Barton (chairman,m House Energy ad Commerce Committee) and others have warned Martin not to try to usurp Congressional power in this matter. They have said that had Congress wanted multi-carry to be law it would have made it law.

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=686145

That, some legal experts say, is one of the most powerful arguments the cable companies will use in court against the expected FCC ruling.
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post #3 of 27 Old 06-15-2006, 10:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken H
This suggests that the agency might require cable to deliver multicast services in analog from the headend.
There's some forward thinking - more bandwidth used on analog channels.
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post #4 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 05:44 AM
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I support must carry under certain conditions.

If a cabole system is willing to make an effort to carry ALL local channels (Multicast versions may be sent digitally only and IMHO ALL programming may be sent digitally ONLY after 2/18/09) stationsd MUST consent to allow them to retransmit their services withOUT compensation.

In other words,carry the PBs and I multiplex channels,the shopping ,Spanish,and religious channels and get ABC,CBS,CW,Fox,My Network TV,and NBC for FREE!
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post #5 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 05:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fredfa
In addition, Rep. Joe Barton (chairman,m House Energy ad Commerce Committee) and others have warned Martin not to try to usurp Congressional power in this matter. They have said that had Congress wanted multi-carry to be law it would have made it law.
While this is very true, it takes both houses of Congress to pass a law and Sen Stevens, Chair of the Senate version, is on record that he will not interfere with the FCC if they pass must carry so Rep Barton can talk as big as he wants. The House has historically passed legislation that the Senate never reacts on and it never becomes law. From what Senator Stevens is saying, he will not even bring it up in committee on the Senate side.

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post #6 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 06:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken H
From Multichannel News, By Ted Hearn
...
Under current law, TV stations that elect mandatory cable carriage are entitled to carriage of just one programming service. Multicast must-carry would expand the requirement to include every free programming service a TV station can pack into its digital bandwidth -- which could mean 6-12 programming services using current compression technology.
...
Dang, anyone seen 12 sub-channels... let alone 6?
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post #7 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 08:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chitchatjf
I support must carry under certain conditions.

If a cabole system is willing to make an effort to carry ALL local channels (Multicast versions may be sent digitally only and IMHO ALL programming may be sent digitally ONLY after 2/18/09) stationsd MUST consent to allow them to retransmit their services withOUT compensation.

In other words,carry the PBs and I multiplex channels,the shopping ,Spanish,and religious channels and get ABC,CBS,CW,Fox,My Network TV,and NBC for FREE!
HaAve the locals in your area that are HD begun multicasting yet? 2 of the main ones in my area do, and 2 others only send 15 mbs, and it is VERY noticible. You may get the channel for free, but you will more than likely get a crappy HD picture.

What's to stop them from pulling a PAX and carry 4 channels?

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post #8 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 08:29 AM
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I am confused about the cable operator's "would be" responsibilty to provide these must- carry signals in both an analog and digital format.

If I as a cable operator went "digital only" tomorrow, the answer would be simple. But what if I continue to offer "full digital" with a legacy "analog option", would the must-carry status apply to both transmissions schemes ???

If it did, this would do nothing but accelerate the total abandonment of analog service. Hell, you could have 50-60 subchannels to deal with at 6 Mhz each. Total insanity.
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post #9 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 04:47 PM
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I'm just wondering where all this "public interest/service" content is going to come from. Most TV stations can't fill up one (analog) channel worth of programming without resorting to infomercials and shopping channels.

To quote the wise old lady, "Where's the [frackin'] beef?" :D
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post #10 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 06:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dishbacker
Dang, anyone seen 12 sub-channels... let alone 6?
You probably have. Those are the kinds of bit rates that DIRECTV uses.
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post #11 of 27 Old 06-16-2006, 07:09 PM
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It's kind of sad, but some day, maybe soon, we will look back on these past few years as the golden age of HD broadcasting.
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post #12 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 06:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by posg
I am confused about the cable operator's "would be" responsibilty to provide these must- carry signals in both an analog and digital format.
I have been asking that same question. :confused:

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post #13 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 06:25 AM
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Chitchatjf:

This is a forum for High Definition television. Anyone who has an interest
in HD would have to be *insane* to want multicasting. Each television station
basically only has enough space assigned for one full-bandwidth HD signal.
Any additional channels can only exist by stealing bandwidth from the HD
transmission, which visibly reduces it's quality.

Multicasting is basically bait-and-switch by the commercial broadcasting
industry. For several decades they implied and promised that they would
provide the public with better picture and sound (the bait) if they were given
the highly-valuable digital frequency allocations. What they apparently
forgot to tell the public was that once they got their hands on these
assignments, they would renege on providing true high definition and
instead chop up the bandwidth for six low-resolution money-making
shopping channels (the switch). The only thing stopping this travesty from
being implemented on a massive scale is the Cable industry's opposition to
'must carry'.

Mike G.
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post #14 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 07:04 AM
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Mike G.,

You've summed up ten to fifteen years of broadcasting history in two tidy little paragraphs. Well said.

Free over the air HDTV + Tivo HD + Netflix for Blu-ray and streaming = Bliss
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post #15 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 07:30 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by posg
I am confused about the cable operator's "would be" responsibilty to provide these must- carry signals in both an analog and digital format.

If I as a cable operator went "digital only" tomorrow, the answer would be simple. But what if I continue to offer "full digital" with a legacy "analog option", would the must-carry status apply to both transmissions schemes ???
You have defined the crux of the issue. The "must carry" and "retransmission consent" rules apply to analog retransmissions. Come 2009 there will be no analog signal to rebroadcast. Digital must carry regulations will be drawn up in a marketplace where the local TV stations are not the powerhouse that they had been and cable is now more profitable than local stations ever were.

The cable companies would like to continue to sell an analog service to those on fixed incomes and to cable ready sets. Yet, there is currently no regulation that will allow them to do so without the broadcasters consent. If it is allowed, who does the downconverting and in what format; letterbox or cropped? Would a broadcaster want to continue to operate his SD equipment just to feed these cable subscribers?

This situation puts the broadcasters in a better negotiating position with the cablecos. A fly on the wall might hear a broadcaster say "If you want the right to downconvert, you must carry all my digital subchannels on the analog tier." The back room of the cablecos might be lamenting the fact that they would have to share the income from shopping channels.
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post #16 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 07:45 AM
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"For several decades they implied and promised that they would
provide the public with better picture and sound (the bait) if they were given
the highly-valuable digital frequency allocations" .

Of course, several decades ago, there weren't hundreds of ways to get TV....Cable, satellite, DVD, VHS, telco, VoIP, downloads, etc. You couldn't go into Best Buy (were they even around that long ago?) and buy every TV show ever made. There wasn't enough competition there to make broadcasters believe anyone would want anything EXCEPT their local stations in "glorius HDTV".

Now, with so much "multichannel" and "I want it when I want it (On Demand)" programming, stations have to offer what they think the public wants. And, with people lining up, VISA Card in hand, to buy multichannel programming from all these competitiors, what would you expect the stations to think?

After all, how many (multichannel) satellite dishes do you see around your neighborhood, compared to how many (one-channel per station) OTA antennas? Scary, when you think about it.

BTW, no one "gave" the stations any spectrum. The stations have earned their existing spectrum through lots of efforts on behalf of their viewers and communities. The "digital loaner" spectrum is being loaned to the viewers who are still watching analog, not to the stations who are paying to run two transmission plants.

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post #17 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 08:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenglish
There wasn't enough competition there to make broadcasters believe anyone would want anything EXCEPT their local stations in "glorius HDTV"..
Some examples for those who have lost the faith in this highly "competetive environment."

Exhibit A:

WLKY-DT (CBS 1080i, 5.1, full bandwidth) vs. WKYT-DT1(CBS 720p, 2.0)

Which one do you think gets the most "view time" in my house, despite the extra effort/antenna required.

Exhibit B: (A forecasted senario - what WBKI will actually do is currently unverified, but I'm monitoring the situation :) )

WBKI-DT (WB/CW, 1080i, ???) vs WKYT-DT2(UPN/CW, 480i) vs. DirecTV regional WB/CW LiL (480i ... yuck.)

Which one do you think will get the most view time in my house, despite the fact that it will require installation of another antenna and/or dealing with a rotor.

In summary, it looks like WKYT has just about multicasted their way off my radar. Competition works as long as "experts" and lobbyists don't muck up the works. :)
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post #18 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 08:33 AM
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It wasn't exactly several decades. The broadcasters, in full panic, showed Congress Japanese HD pictures in 1994. They said the U.S. sttod to lose valuable tech leadership if it didn't catch up -- with HD.

And at that stage, cable was ubiquitous and DBS had arrived -- even if broadcasters (and cable) dismissed it.

Sadly, far too many broadcasters haven't "earned their existing spectrum through lots of efforts on behalf of their viewers and communities." As you well know, there is a growing number that do little or no news or public affairs programming.

Broadcasters now say they are being "forced" to make the digital transition. But they are the ones who begged for it.

They fail to realize they are squatting on property that belongs to all of us. And if they continue to show Americans that they are not using it wisely, they face losing it. Clearly in the next "several decades" there will be many, many new ways to deliver programming to Americans.

Perhaps, with imagination and with hard work, local broadcasters will still be one of the major delivery systems.

But trying to say we "owe" them anything because after decades of getting returns of upwards of 50% per year on their investment things have now changed is disingenuous.

Your station has always been a national leader in public service. Ken. But these days very few others are following that lead.

And I suspect the well-intentioned broadcasters are now paying the price for those who cancel news broadcasts, ignore public service requirements, skirt children's programming obligations, laugh at their agreements regarding the "family hour", and now claim some kind of "right" that Congress keep their station prices rising while they do less and less for their communities.
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post #19 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 11:14 AM
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Amen ;) .

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post #20 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 02:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by barth2k
It's kind of sad, but some day, maybe soon, we will look back on these past few years as the golden age of HD broadcasting.
Is 1080p Blu-Ray the only saving grace?

Could Blu-Ray sales pressure OTA broadcasters to deliver at most a weather sub-channel, in addition to an HD main channel, in order to compete?
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post #21 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 04:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HDTVChallenged
Some examples for those who have lost the faith in this highly "competetive environment."

Exhibit A:

WLKY-DT (CBS 1080i, 5.1, full bandwidth) vs. WKYT-DT1(CBS 720p, 2.0)

Which one do you think gets the most "view time" in my house, despite the extra effort/antenna required.

Exhibit B: (A forecasted senario - what WBKI will actually do is currently unverified, but I'm monitoring the situation :) )

WBKI-DT (WB/CW, 1080i, ???) vs WKYT-DT2(UPN/CW, 480i) vs. DirecTV regional WB/CW LiL (480i ... yuck.)

Which one do you think will get the most view time in my house, despite the fact that it will require installation of another antenna and/or dealing with a rotor.

In summary, it looks like WKYT has just about multicasted their way off my radar. Competition works as long as "experts" and lobbyists don't muck up the works. :)
Obviously you straddle the Lexington (market #63, home to WKYT) and Louisville (#50, home to WBKI and WLKY) markets.

Unfortunately, a search for Lexington turns up only four full-power stations, which explains the CW subchannel. Unless someone builds another station, it's a no brainer that an existing station is going to want to sign them up as a sub. The same thing is happening in many mid-size markets with a dearth of stations.

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post #22 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 05:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dline
Unfortunately, a search for Lexington turns up only four full-power stations, which explains the CW subchannel. Unless someone builds another station, it's a no brainer that an existing station is going to want to sign them up as a sub. The same thing is happening in many mid-size markets with a dearth of stations.
True. I'm just pointing out the law of unintended consequences. The effort to gain "more" eyeballs just might backfire on you. There is a significant overlap corridor between the two DMAs. :)
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post #23 of 27 Old 06-17-2006, 06:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QZ1
Is 1080p Blu-Ray the only saving grace?

Could Blu-Ray sales pressure OTA broadcasters to deliver at most a weather sub-channel, in addition to an HD main channel, in order to compete?
yes, but that's only for movies. I'm not going to wait for Lost (for ex) to come out on HDDVD/BL to watch it. so in that sense, it's no competition any more than movie theaters are competition on Wed at 9pm.
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post #24 of 27 Old 06-18-2006, 10:22 PM
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Washington Notebook
FCC drops digital must-carry plan

Chairman Martin couldn't gain majority for rules proposal
By BLOOMBERG in Variety.com

The Federal Communications Commission won't consider so-called multicast must-carry rules this week because chairman Kevin Martin couldn't garner a majority in support.

The proposal was dropped from the agenda for a Wednesday meeting, said a spokeswoman for Martin. Democrats on the commission oppose the plan that would force cable operators to carry additional digital channels from a broadcaster.

So far, the FCC only requires cable companies to carry a broadcaster's primary signal.
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post #25 of 27 Old 06-18-2006, 10:34 PM
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Ken H:
Given this development, perhaps a change in headline is in order?
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post #26 of 27 Old 06-19-2006, 01:08 AM
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fredfa's already posted a new thread about this new development here.

As a counterpoint, here's a warning (I've already posted this in the other two threads dealing with this topic, but I'll post it here as well):

This is only a defeat for "must-carry" of subchannels, and it MAY only be temporary.

But temporary or not, it won't affect negotiation for subchannel carriage, as PBS stations and many commercial network affiliates have already done. And it won't stop the flood of stations who are snapping up secondary CW and MyNetwork affiliations in mid-size and smaller markets where there aren't enough stations for full-time affiliates.

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post #27 of 27 Old 06-19-2006, 04:32 AM
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