FCC Chair: Analog or Digital? TV Stations, Not Cable Operators, Should Decide

Seeking to get past one of the major hurdles on the move from analog signals to digital, TV stations should have the right to determine whether local cable operators use the analog signals or the new digital versions, said Kevin Martin, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

The full commission is expected to decide the measure at its July 14 meeting.

Right now, stations are allowed to demand that local cable systems carry only their analog channels. On Thursday, Martin said that he wants the TV business to start moving from the old channels in order to spur greater consumer adoption of digital programming.

Therefore, the current policy of applying cable must-carry rights only to analog channels must be changed, he said. Still, the cable industry is pushing for his fellow commissioners to reject the proposal, decrying the idea as a backdoor way to mandate dual-carriage obligations on the pay-TV industry. The industry claims that stations will demand carriage of their digital signals and cable operators will have no choice other than to carry the analog version as well, because most viewers still aren't equipped to see digital channels and will demand that analog versions remain available.

Through an FCC representative, Martin said that this problem would be avoided through contract negotiations between the stations and the local cable operators.

One cable industry professional denounced the measure as "coercive."

"The gives the stations an unfair advantage against local cable companies," said one cable industry source. "And by allowing them that choice, it will further impede the movement towards the adoption of high def TV."

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