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CEA Calls For Capacity-Based DTV Cable Rules

The Consumer Electronics Association told Federal Communications Commission members to adopt a capacity-based dual or multicast cable carriage rule for digital broadcasting to best serve the public interest in the transition to digital television (DTV).

In comments to the FCC on the eve of the recent National Cable Television Association Show, CEA additionally noted that “non-simulcast dual carriage would spur new digital content and further the transition.”

CEA filed the comments in response to a Further Notice by the FCC in the matter of carriage of digital television broadcast signals.

Although CEA favors cable carriage of all new digital broadcast services, the association acknowledged that differences between cable systems call for a compromise based on system capacity. Specifically, “the more capacity a cable system has available, the higher the amount of its capacity that should be allocated or available for must-carry purposes,” CEA noted.

“Mandating cable carriage of a single broadcast signal forces broadcasters to make a choice that is ultimately detrimental to consumers and the future of digital broadcasting. Broadcasters will be forced to choose either carriage of their analog signals at the peril of DTV or carriage of their digital signals at the peril of consumers lacking digital-capable equipment,” CEA said. “The negative effects of this either/or choice are apparent.”

In response to claims by cable operators that a dual or multicast carriage requirement for digital broadcast signals will displace substantial numbers of existing cable network channels, CEA pointed to the fact that the digital rollout is phased and that not all broadcasters will be requesting digital carriage at once.

Instead, most immediate requests will come from broadcasters in large markets where cable systems already have been upgraded.

CEA emphasized with the FCC that must-carry obligations will help drive the DTV transition. “Knowing that cable systems will carry digital broadcast signals, more digital content will be developed by programmers who have been assured that cable will carry their output. Must-carry of digital broadcasts and multicasts also will spur broadcasters to create more original digital content and avoid mere simulcasting of analog programming in digital format.”

CEA also called for a broad definition of broadcast “program-related” services that should be included under cable’s carriage obligations. According to CEA, “program related” should include all free, over the air services and information that are in any way related to broadcast programming, including program system information protocol (“PSIP”) information.