Cablers claim b'casters seeking 'free ride'

WASHINGTON — Cablers and broadcasters are trading barbs again over the increasingly volatile issue of multicast must-carry rules.

In a white paper released Tuesday, the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. evoked a classic rock lyric, accusing broadcasters of seeking a “free ride” at the expense of cablers and consumers.

Broadcasters want cablers to carry as many as six digital channels from each local station transmitting digital TV signals. The Federal Communications Commission ruled in 2001 that cablers are not required to carry more than one, and the agency affirmed that ruling this winter.

Broadcasters are hoping to get multicast must-carry rules included in DTV-conversion legislation the Senate is expected to take up in September.

” ‘Come on and Take a Free Ride’ was a popular lyric in the 1970s, but no one ever seriously believed that it should become the basis for a public policy proposal. That is, until now,” the NCTA paper said.

‘False and misleading’

NCTA accused the National Assn. of Broadcasters of using “numerous false and misleading arguments” in broadcasters’ attempts to persuade Congress and federal regulators to federally mandate cable carriage of their digital multicast signals. The cable org said such a mandate would result in bad public policy.

“Commercial broadcasters are seeking additional government-mandated space on cable systems for programming that consumers may not want, rather than competing for carriage on the merits of their own programming,” the NCTA stated in the paper.

But NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton responded in a statement, “Regrettably, NCTA rehashes tired, old rhetoric in asking Congress to insulate the cable cartel from competition from local broadcasters and other programmers.

“Moreover, NCTA manipulates and misstates the facts on multicasting,” Wharton continued. “DTV multicasting provides a new opportunity for Congress to dismantle cable’s gatekeeper status and usher in a new era of program choice for America’s local television viewers.”

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