Skip to main content

Cable: Get with the program

The cable industry wants broadcasters to stop worrying so much about who is going to carry their signals and how and just come up with some worthwhile programming for them to carry.

The NAB last week shifted from pushing for dual cable carriage of broadcasters' analog and digital signals to getting the cable industry to pass through broadcasters' entire 6 MHz digital signal to consumers, according to a statement of principles that the NAB board approved last week.

"The cable industry believes that marketplace, not government-mandated, solutions consistently achieve the best results," an NCTA spokesman responded. "We stand prepared to work with all parties, including the NAB, on consumer-driven solutions to the digital broadcast transition."

Said one cable source, "In the end, I think the need for must-carry is going to disappear. Cable operators will agree to carry the high-definition programming of the four major networks." Once the four majors are carried, that will drive carriage for everyone else, the source predicted.

Cable still is balking at the idea that operators should have to carry broadcasters' entire digital signal. "Cable operators are offering [cable] programmers as many bits as they need to provide their core business. We think it should be the same for broadcasters," says Bruce Collins, general counsel for C-SPAN.

On broadcasters' side is Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who says he is prepared to help broadcasters achieve their goals if that will speed the transition.

"It's an important step forward in breaking the logjam. [The statement] certainly shows that NAB is willing to be flexible in trying to make the transition to digital a reality. We look forward to working closely with all of the affected parties to make sure this happens," said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. Tauzin and other key lawmakers plan to hold a second DTV meeting with industry representatives this month in an effort to advance the transition.

"We are going to ask all of the affected industries to agree to a game plan spelling out where we want to be and how we get there," Johnson said. "From Billy's perspective, we're willing to give everyone a reasonable amount of time to carry out the game plan, but there will also be a warning: 'If you don't get the job done, you can expect Congress to intervene.'"

Some Washington observers, however, weren't too impressed by the NAB's policy switch. "I was disappointed in the NAB," said one attorney. "I thought they would do something more."