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Public TV Presses DBS Multicast Case

Public television stations want Congress to require carriage of all local public channels’ digital signals.

The Association of Public Television Stations said its members will personally lobby on Capitol Hill to amend Section 338 of the Communication Act so that “must-carry” obligations extend to all HD and other digital programming broadcast by public TV stations.

APTS has a multicast carriage agreement with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and said it expects a similar agreement to be concluded soon with the American Cable Association, representing smaller operators. APTS also has a multicast carriage agreement with Verizon Communications for the FiOS TV service but has been unable to reach a deal with AT&T.

EchoStar Communications and DirecTV aren’t carrying any public television digital signals, except for a few public TV stations broadcasting solely in digital, according to APTS.

APTS’ take on talks with the satellite-TV providers is that a deal seems likelier with DirecTV. The group said overall, “There have been no significant developments regarding satellite carriage agreements. EchoStar, which flatly told public broadcasters it will not carry any multicast signals in the foreseeable future, nor will it commit to carriage of any local public television station’s HD signals, only recently approached APTS to discuss carriage options. Meanwhile, DirecTV has been rolling out local HD carriage of only the top four commercial networks in major markets.”

APTS said it and DirecTV “have begun discussions on a possible digital carriage agreement, taking into consideration DirecTV’s assertions of technical and capacity restraints. DirecTV may be willing to consider a phased-in approach to carriage, but talks are still at an early stage.”

APTS said DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish Network are now the second- and fourth-largest multichannel-video providers in the country, with a total of 26 million customers.

“We have had very productive discussions with APTS about digital signal carriage," DirecTV senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs Susan Eid said. "We are optimistic that we will be able to reach agreement."