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Affils Want DTV Vote Delayed

Affiliates of the Big Three networks have joined the Belo station group in calling on the FCC to postpone its planned February ruling on DTV must-carry.

Arguing that there is no need to rush a decision, given that the give-back date for analog spectrum is some five years in the future, the groups, representing 650 ABC, CBS and NBC TV stations covering 98% of the country, say that the FCC should not heed the request of "some broadcasters" (Paxson Communications in particular), that it make the decision now.

The groups say that with Congress considering legislating a new hard date for the giveback ( a "sense of the Congress" resolution was passed to that effect), the FCC needs to be able to "take into account the imminent changes in the broader, fundamental legislative environment that should critically affect the proper consideration of these issues."

The FCC is expected to respond to a Paxson petition for clarification on digital cable carriage by voting that broadcasters are not entitled to cable must carry of all the channels they can fit into their new DTV spectrum allotment, only the replication of their primary channel. That's not what Paxson wanted to hear.

Calling the resulting potential disenfranchisement of  over-the-air households, and second and third sets in most households, "carnage," the groups said: "The carriage decisions the Commission is apparently poised to make--unnecessarily because they are unlikely to take effect for five years--would also convert into a self-fulfilling prophecy the desire of the elitists to drive all Americans to total reliance on pay television."

Broadcasters are lobbying hard against a vote that would deny them full multicast rights in the digital age. Those rights, they say, are necessary to making those services economically viable."The crippling of broadcasters' free multicast services will thwart localism," they argued, saying it will "force broadcasters to abandon plans to use their digital spectrum in ways they believe best serve their local communities."Belo Broadcasting, a DTV pioneer, last week wrote letters to the chairs of the House and Senate Commerce committees pushing Congress to call for a delay of the FCC DTV vote until after FCC Chairman Michael Powell exits in March and a new chairman is named.They, too, are trying to head off a thumbs-down on multicasting must-carry.The FCC has already stated its position that it does not feel broadcasters are entitled by statute to full multicast carriage, but it was petitioned to reconsider that stand.