Digital space jam

FCC chair champions digital TV, addresses cable's fears

NEW YORK — Federal Communications Commission chairman Bill Kennard is cheerleading for digital TV to take over the communications landscape in the next decade or so — but not at the expense of cable operators that have ramped up their local programming.

Speaking to an industry audience at the Intl. Radio & TV Society Foundation in New York on Tuesday, Kennard indirectly addressed the fear of cable operators like John Malone that they’ll have to drop local 24-hour news channels and public affairs networks like C-Span and C-Span2 if the government forces operators to carry all of the digital signals that TV stations will be transmitting.

These digital signals will be up and running in some major markets by as early as November. Over-the-air transmission of these signals will begin from day one, but they’ll gobble up so much band width that the average cable system won’t be able to accommodate them without displacing current cable networks.

“Broadcasters want the government to extend their right to cable carriage of new digital channels,” Kennard said, but he went on to question why broadcast webs look on themselves as “unique.” Cable has made great strides, he continued, in creating “local programming, particularly news and public-affairs shows,” delivered to “almost three-quarters of Americans” who “actually pay to receive these channels” as cable subscribers.

Following the formal speech, Kennard said the FCC should basically stay out of the business of regulating the content of TV shows, unless the industry is abdicating responsibility in a particular area.

In the speech, Kennard said the FCC would not “micromanage” the industry’s shifting to digital TV. “The transition to digital TV is inevitable,” he continued, “but the pace of the transition will be set by the private sector.”

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