FCC delays action on multicast rules

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pulled so-called “multicast must-carry” rules from its agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, dealing a temporary blow to broadcast TV lobbyists who want the agency to require cable carriage of multiple broadcast channels.

Multicast must-carry would mandate that cable stations include secondary TV signals from broadcast stations in addition to their primary programming. Broadcasters are concerned that the 2009 transition to all-digital TV, approved by Congress last year, will give cable greater incentive to avoid multicasting.

The postponed vote signals a failure to reach consensus among the three GOP commissioners, despite FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s support for must-carry. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which lobbied heavily to include must-carry in last year’s budget reconciliation bill, issued a statement praising Martin’s efforts.

“A multicasting rule would provide an explosion of free local program choices for consumers, including public interest programming,” said Dennis Wharton, the NAB’s senior vice president. “If consumers are to enjoy the full benefits of digital television, cable operators must not be permitted to strip out the full DTV signal for anti-competitive purposes.”