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Cox Still Pondering Kids Comments

At press time, Cox had not signed on to a broadcaster effort to get local public interest DTV channels, news and weather for example, exempted from program quotas in compromise kids DTV rules the FCC is considering adopting.

Initial reports were that Cox was among a number of broadcast groups asking the FCC for an exemption from the requirement that they carry at least three hours a week of FCC-friendly kids programming for each free multicast channel they program.

Cox Television President Andrew Fisher said that, while he is aware of the draft, he had not yet seen it and his company had not signed on to it.

Jerald Fritz, senior VP, and legal strategic affairs, for Allbritton, says his company is on board, as is McGraw-Hill and Media General. He also expects that Gannett and LIN TV may join as well, and said he had also thought Cox was on board.

The compromise rules do not require each DTV channel to air the kids programming, but instead allows stations to aggregate it.

For example, a broadcaster programing its primary digital channel and two additional ones would have to carry nine hours of educational/informational (E/I) programming per week in total, but those shows could be divided up among the channels in any combination, including all on the primary channel.

But, Fritz says, "the admittedly political compromise strains at the Constitution" by "choosing one type of public interest program over another. Why is a kids show more in the public interest than a 24-hour political channel?," he asks. "They're not. And that is the legal flaw."

Fritz says viewers aren't tuning to a news or weather channel to see a kids show. "Forcing children's programs on these subchannels that have admitted public interest benefits themselves seems wrong," he says. "They ought to give us a pass on that."

The FCC put the rules out for comment last month. It has has stayed the effective date of the rules until it has collected input on the deal and voted either to accept it or reject it. It is widely expected to do the former, though it could tweak the deal in response to comments.

The National Association of Broadcasters board, after some debate, voted to support the compromise, which was struck in December after both sides took the FCC's original DTV kids rules to court--the media companies because they thought they were too restrictive, kids activists because they thought they were not tough enough.

Leaving in place the requirement that broadcasters air three hours of decuational children's progamming per channel was a key element for kids activists who agreed to the deal.