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Digital carriage case lands in court

The bitter fight over cable carriage of broadcasters' digital channels has finally landed in federal court.

Paxson Communications is asking the federal appeals court in Washington to reverse a tentative FCC opinion denying stations the right to demand carriage of digital signals until they relinquish their analog signals, rejecting the right to force carriage of multicast DTV signals. Paxson's appeal stems from his failed request for carriage on Chicago area cable systems for WCPX's digital signal in return for dropping carriage of its analog counterpart.

Paxson called the FCC's decision "arbitrary and capricious" because the 1992 law mandating carriage of local TV signals does not distinguish between analog and digital signals. "Orders denying Paxson's complaints are contrary to law and should be set aside," the company said.

Paxson insists the 1992 law entitles TV stations to demand carriage of the entire 6 MHz channel, which would include a primary signal and - in a digital context - another four or five other programming signals.

"This may be the only shot we have at defending dual carriage," said NAB attorney Jeff Baumann, indicating a last ditch effort to preserve the double carriage option could be in the works.

In addition to abandoning the fight for dual carriage long ago, Paxson sparked NAB enmity by calling for multicast carriage only to cable subscribers receiving a digital tier. The NAB wants all cable customers to be entitled to multicast signals. - Bill McConnell