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NABET: Multicast Short-Market Satellite Fix Is Crucial

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, a Communications Workers of America union representing almost 10,000 TV station employees says TV stations won't survive without having the ability to exploit "the full potential" of DTV.

While that sounds like the arguments broadcasters have been making to the FCC about spectrum reclamation, this was in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a copy of which was obtained by B&C, asking them to fight for a multicast short-market provision in their satellite reauthorization bill when it comes time to reconcile House and Senate versions.

In the Senate version of the bill, a network affiliation on a multicast signal counts as serving a local market and thus precludes satellite operators from importing a distant-signal version of that affiliate to viewers who can receive the multicast version.

Short markets are ones that lack a full complement of network affiliate stations. ABC, for example, has struck several secondary affiliation deals to get its signals into markets without a primary ABC affiliate. NABET-CWA used the example of a station in Beaumont, Tex., KBMT, an NBC affiliate that now has the ABC affiliation on a multicast channel after the ABC affiliate switched to Fox.

The House version of the bill, H. 3570, only considers primary signals of TV network affiliates as serving viewers, and would allow a distant-signal version of the same affiliate to be imported into one with a secondary multicast version. Since that would mean having to compete with the distant-signal version, it could prevent local channels from rolling out multicast versions in markets missing network affiliates.

That, said NABET-CWA, could hurt already hurting stations, while the converse could save jobs.

"The multicasting of missing network affiliates greatly benefits TV viewers and strengthens the economic vitality of local TV stations," they write. "Additional revenue derived from multicasting of network affiliates supports economically embattled local TV stations and enables them to invest more in production of increasingly unprofitable local news and public interest programming."

The Congress must reconcile several versions of the bill--the Commerce and Judiciary committees in both Houses share jurisdiction--and pass it by the end of the year, or the compulsory license allowing satellite operators to import distant signals expires.

The union also favors mandating carriage of local TV stations in all 210 markets by EchoStar and DirecTV, but an amendment to that affect proposed for the Senate Judiciary version two weeks ago but was tabled and replaced by one calling for the FCC to study why all stations were not being carried.