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Commissioners Uneasy About DTV Vote?

Some Federal Communications Commission members may be getting cold feet about voting on digital-TV multicasting Feb. 10. At least broadcasters are fervently hoping so.

More than a dozen broadcast executives, including a number of National Association of Broadcasting board members, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell Thursday saying that, in meetings with commissioners, those commissioners left those broadcasters with the distinct impression that they are "deeply concerned about voting in a week on these issues."

Powell has been under the distinct impression that he had the votes from a majority of those commissioners to deny digital multicast carriage, as many as all five of them according to one source.

If so, that could mean that the multicasting deal earlier in the week between the cable industry and public television stations was sufficient to get the other commissioners on board.

Others suggest the vote is closer, but that unless there is a groundswell from Congress, the vote will go through, and go against broadcasters.

The broadcasters said they had got those impressions from the various commissioners, not including Powell, during meetings on the issue of whether broadcasters should get full cable and satellite carriage of all of their multicast channels.

Couching the language carefully, the broadcasters told Powell they "came away believing...that the commissioners generally" "appreciate" that allowing cable to strip out free multicast services will hurt the public interest; understand cable has incentive "to thwart or cripple the launch" of competitive services," and were uncomfortable with the vote going forward.

Among the signatories are Belo's Jack Sander, Barrington Broadcasting's Jim Yager, Gannett's Craig Dubow, Alan Frank, Post-Newsweek, and Terry Mackin, Hearst-Argyle.

The National Cable& Telecommunications Association sees little reason for uncertainly: "The FCC has previously found that requiring cable operators to carry analog and digital versions of every TV broadcast station would likely be unconstitutional," NCTA said in a statement.  "It has also determined that the Communications Act does not require cable operators to carry multiple digital channels for every TV station.  The extensive record in this proceeding gives the Commission ample reason to reaffirm its previous rulings.