B’casters frowning at Congress’ satcast bills

NAB balks at 'phasing-in' system

WASHINGTON — Broadcasters made it clear Friday that they don’t like the looks of legislation now making its way through Congress that would allow satcasters to offer a limited package of local channels via satellite.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters dislikes the bills because they would allow satcasters to pick and choose which local TV stations to carry. While the major networks are confident their affiliates will be carried, stations affiliated with lesser webs and indies are worried that they will be left out of the satcasting packages.

‘Must carry’ coming

Although the legislation calls for a phased-in “must carry” obligation for all stations, broadcasters are concerned that satcasters will balk at carrying lesser viewed stations.

“We … have serious reservations about any sort of ‘phased-in’ must carry system that might ultimately never ‘phase in,’ ” wrote National Assn. of Broadcasters president Eddie Fritts in a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is chair of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Worries that “must carry” requirements will never become a reality were just one of the many objections raised by Fritts in the letter, and signals that broadcasters will be resisting the legislation unless it is changed.

Fast track isn’t

McCain plans to proceed with a hearing on his proposal this week, with a possible committee vote as well.

But despite McCain’s efforts to put the legislation on a fast track, hopes are dimming that any action will be taken this year.

Congress is preoccupied, not only with allegations of perjury that have been leveled against President Clinton, but also the need to wrap up the federal budget before returning home for elections.

One Capitol Hill staffer said that chances of the satcasting legislation becoming law this year are “slim but not none.”

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