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Cable Formally Rejects Broadcasters’ DTV-Carriage Plan

The cable industry said "No!" to broadcasters’ latest digital carriage plan as soon as it was announced, but the industry’s main trade group made its opposition official Monday in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said a new NAB/MSTV plan that would give stations the right to choose either analog or digital carriage during the switch to DTV is "spin" that would "cause serious harm to cable operators, programmers and consumers."

The cable industry specifically opposes a provision that would obligate a cable operator to provide its analog customers some version of the broadcaster’s channel when a station picks the digital-carriage option. In that case, the cable system could downconvert the signal for analog customers, effectively requiring carriage of two versions of the same channel, or carry out an expensive upgrade to allow all customers to receive digital channels. Because the "vast majority" of cable customers rely on analog service, NCTA said, operators would have little alternative to carrying both digital and analog channels.

Cable operators have been battling for more than seven years against broadcasters’ appeal for dual analog/digital-carriage rights during the transition to all-digital channels. NCTA maintains that dual carriage would crowd out new cable channels and services that operators want to offer.

The FCC is expected to reiterate a previous "tentative" rejection of dual carriage when it sets permanent DTV-carriage rules early next year. NAB and MSTV drafted the new "either/or" plan to alleviate commissioners’ worries that forcing operators to carry both types of channels would be overruled in court. NAB officials said they were not surprised by NCTA’s dismissal. "NCTA’s rejection of the new ‘either/or’ DTV-carriage proposal is as predictable as it is anti-consumer," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in a prepared statement. "With each passing day, it becomes more apparent the cable gatekeepers will go to any length to block competitive digital and high-definition program offerings from local broadcasters."