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Capital Watch

Sachs: Multicast Carriage Threatens 'Dumbed-Down' TV

As the battle of cable carriage of digital broadcast stations heats up, top cable lobbyist Robert Sachs said broadcasters have put forth no viable business plans for multicasting, save infomercials and home shopping. "We don't want cable lineups dumbed down" with that type of programming, the head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association told reporters last week.

In recent weeks, broadcast lobbyists from networks and single stations alike have regaled the FCC with promises to offer weather, news and sports programs with their digital multicast capabilities. No one has proved that those offerings will make it financially, Sachs said. "I don't believe we've seen anything submitted that includes a business plan and financial projections necessary for future viability" of those high-minded multicasts.

In the next two months, the FCC is expected to set permanent rules for cable carriage of local stations' digital signals. Sachs also argued that cable stands a strong chance of winning court challenges to expanded must-carry rules. Besides the traditional argument that must-carry violates cable operators' free-speech rights—a position the Supreme Court rejected by a narrow margin—NCTA officials noted that the courts have never ruled on a separate argument that mandated carriage violates the Fifth Amendment prohibition on taking private property.

FCC Grants Renewal Extension

The Dec. 1 deadline for submitting renewal applications for radio stations in Alabama and Georgia was postponed to Dec. 8 after a bad software upgrade bogged down the FCC's electronic application system. Since Oct. 24, the system that TV and radio operators use to apply for construction permits and request changes to their licenses has been plagued by electronic snarls. FCC staff said the problem struck when the agency upgraded its Sybase software from version 11.5 to 12.5. After a month of troubleshooting failed to solve the problem, IT personnel reinstalled the previous version.

ATSC Promotes Whitaker

Jerry Whitaker has been named vice president of standards development for the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the industry group that sets standards for digital television. He has been secretary of ATSC's technology group on distribution. Whitaker joined ATSC in 2000 to coordinate the technical activities within the organization. "Jerry has also taken the lead on training and education efforts, developing seminars and Web-based resources for the industry,'' said ATSC President Mark Richer.

Before joining ATSC, Whitaker was the president of consulting and publishing firm Technical Press. He was associate publisher for Broadcast Engineering
and Video Systems
magazines. He also has been a radio-station chief engineer and television news producer.

Administration Plans Spectrum-Management hearings

NTIA, the agency overseeing White House telecom policy, plans a series of public meetings on spectrum management. NTIA will host the first, on Dec. 9, and will co-sponsor another in February with the National Academy of Sciences. NTIA plans a third with the Department of Homeland Security.

NCTA's new lobbyist

Steven Berry was picked last week to run the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's Capitol Hill and White House lobbying team. Berry, 51, takes his post Jan. 2. He joins NCTA from the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, where he led federal and state lobbying. He also has been a Republican staffer for Capitol Hill committees and congressmen as well as a lobbyist for the State Department. Berry succeeds Pam Turner, who became the Department of Homeland Security's congressional liaison in March.