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Honig Cheers Martin for Bridging Multicast Must-Carry Divide

David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council , gives FCC Chairman Kevin Martin props for trying to bridge the multicast must-carry divide by helping minorities and small businesses.

According to Honig, the chairman reached out to him with a proposal, first reported by Multichannel News' Ted Hearn, to require cable operators to carry a broadcasters' multicast channel if it has been leased to a third-party small business or new entrant.

"Seldom do you find FCC chairmen wading into contentious subjects to bridge differences," says Honig. Even less frequently, that solution involves promoting diversity, he says.

Although the chairman wants to make that third-party classification race neutral, Honig sees it as potentially benefitting minorities.

The move could also potentially help small and independent religious broadcasters, who are concerned about getting lost in the DTV-transition shuffle . Religious broadcasters are meeting for their annual convention in Orlando, Fla., starting Feb. 17, and Craig Parshall, senior VP and general counsel for the association, says he expects the proposal to be addressed during a first-day panel on Religious Broadcasting and the Government in the 21st Century. That could be a pretty safe bet since Parshall is one of the panelists.

Honig says he met with Martin last week, along with representatives of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, and liked what he heard, though a key will be how to define who qualifies as a small business.

Martin tried to institute multicast must-carry back in June 2006, but he could not muster the votes. The FCC, with Martin dissenting, has already said several times that Congress intended for cable to carry only the digital replication of a station's analog signal, not all the fee digital channels it could create out of its digital spectrum allotment.

An FCC spokesman would not comment on the new Martin plan, but the FCC is expected to put out a notice of proposed rulemaking asking for input on who should qualify.