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Kennard backs digital carriage

Every TV station, including newly allotted outlets, will be guaranteed cable carriage of at least one digital signal when the transition from analog transmission is complete, FCC Chairman William Kennard told a group of broadcasters last week.

His comments were meant to assuage lingering concern among broadcasters that new stations that never broadcast an analog signal would be ineligible for mandated carriage on cable systems.

Kennard was expressing his interpretation of the law and was not indicating any formal consensus among the five FCC commissioners.

Although Kennard's interpretation reflects longstanding conventional wisdom among the broadcast and cable industries, some broadcast lobbyists fear the cable industry will eventually challenge application of the must-carry law to new digital stations.

Kennard made his comments during a meeting with the Broadcasters' Digital Cooperative, a group exploring ways to pool and lease stations' excess digital spectrum.

Paxson Communication Chairman Lowell "Bud" Paxson told reporters that Kennard's comments indicated a reversal of position on the must-carry debate by the FCC chairman. But an agency spokeswoman said that is not the case. "He has not changed his view," she said.

Kennard still has not decided whether DTV stations are entitled to carriage of both analog and digital signals during the transition to all-digital transmission, nor has he decided whether broadcasters that offer multiple free channels are entitled to carriage of all their signals.

Broadcasters attending the meeting were delighted to have encouraging words from Kennard on the digital must-carry fight, no matter how narrowly focused his message. "The chairman said he would do anything in his power to help us, and must-carry is one of those things," said George Nelson, vice president of Morgan Murphy Stations. "This is a huge step forward for small groups."