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NAB’s Fritts, NCTA’s Sachs Trade Views On HDTV Cable Carriage

Another “bump in the road” came between representatives of the cable and broadcasting industries during the HDTV Summit.

Edward Fritts, National Association of Broadcasters president, said cable pricing programs for HDTV services and equipment is deterring some consumers from high-definition television.

Fritts also called cable operators monopoly gatekeepers for carrying just 75 of the current 779 DTV broadcast stations on the air.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs reminded Fritts that cable operators are under no obligation to carry both analog and digital signals, and that some stations are not carried because broadcasters are demanding payment for HDTV channel carriage.

Sachs added that cable operators must carry all DTV broadcast stations once analog signals are shut off, and that most HDTV subscribers currently are not charged extra for HD services.

Sachs said competition from direct-broadcast satellite services led the cable industry to implement $70 billion in upgrades for digital and HDTV service and that most cable operators look to local HDTV services as a weapon to fend off satellite competitors.

Meanwhile, Jessica Wallace, a House Energy and Commerce Committee aide, said committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) expects to begin hearings on a new DTV bill shortly after the Easter recess.

Tauzin wants to see the bill move through the House by the end of August. She added an early tentative provision calling to plug the so-called analog hole, would likely be removed. The measure, which is being demanded by Hollywood content owners, could have threatened the ability of many current HDTV monitors to receive full HDTV signals.

The bill would address broadcasters’ cable-carriage rights for multicasting, ways to speed the government’s reclamation of analog spectrum and standards for plug-and-play sets.