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FCC's Martin Pitches Multicast Channel Leasing Proposal

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin used a speech at an American Women in Radio & Television Annual Leadership Summit in Washington Friday to make a strong pitch for his multicast channel leasing proposal, saying broadcasters should "seize the opportunity."

Martin has suggested that TV stations be allowed to lease multicast channels to certain as-yet-unspecified designated entrants, who would get to program the channels and assert must-carry rights that TV stations receive. They would also have public interest obligations.

He said the digital multicasting leasing plan would be "a significant opportunity for new entrants in the broadcast area," allowing them to overcome the expense of building a station and the limited availability of broadcast spectrum.

The FCC is currently reviewing its ownership rules including being pushed by activist groups, unions, legislators, and others to insure more diversity of ownership of the airwaves.

Saying the plan would create jobs and increase dissemination of diverse viewpoints, he said it was "incumbent on broadcasters to seize the chance." For its part, he said, the commission will work to see that they have the opportunity to lease that spectrum.

Some broadcasters are already leasing their channels. Sinclair, for example, leases time on Sunday mornings to local churches to air their services.

Martin drew comparisons between the plan and the FCC's creating  low-power FM stations several years ago, and thus new radio opportunities for women and minorities.

After the speech, Martin told said he hoped to have the notice of proposed rulemaking on what public interest obligations would apply to the specturm leasers circulated among the commissioners by Friday, according to a source

On the marketplace side, Martin cited the recent

LATV deal

, in which a Spanish-language station will be carried on some Post-Newsweek multicast channels, as the kind of opportunity that can be provided to bring new and diverse voices into the broadcasting environment.

--John Eggerton contributed to this report.