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Home arrow Government Regulation arrow Government Regulation

Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gives an exclusive interview to Broadcasting & Cable, covering a wide range of topics, including a la carte cable TV pricing, the state of the digital television transition, how broadcaster public interest obligations should be defined and monitored in the digital age, and the potential for use of "white space spectrum" by unlicensed devices.

But perhaps the most interesting ground covered in the lengthy interview was Martin's discussion of multicasting, and his advocacy for mandatory carriage of all digital program streams by cable television providers.

From Multichannel News:

The cable industry scored a decisive political victory Tuesday night when Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin had to dump a draconian digital TV plan that cable vowed to contest in court, perhaps rupturing the harmony needed by the industry-government effort to shift the nation to all-digital broadcast TV in early 2009 without a massive consumer rebellion.

After an 11-hour delay to the start of its monthly meeting, the FCC voted 5-0 at about 10 p.m. to require cable systems to distribute local TV stations that demand carriage in both analog and digital formats for a three-year period starting Feb. 18, 2009. Thatís the day after all 1,756 full-power TV stations must turn off their analog signals and rely exclusively on their digital feeds.

This somewhat arcane but important ruling applies mostly to smaller, independent local TV stations that might otherwise be omitted from local cable line-ups in favor of more popular non-broadcast programming. Analog "must carry" has existed as de facto law of the land, with a Supreme Court ruling backing it up, since the late 1990s. Now it is being extended to cover the potential fallout that might occur in the transition from analog to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

It's worth noting that the ruling on dual "must carry" does not appear to have any obvious impact on recent squabbles between the cable industry and broadcasters arising from broadcaster demands that cable operators pay retransmission fees for the right to deliver local digital stations to its subscribers.

Under "must carry" provisions, broadcasters have the option to declare for "must carry," in which case the cable system is legally required to include that station in its basic tier. However, those stations that do not declare for "must carry" have the option of entering into negotiations to be paid for carriage of their station signals. But if the two sides are unable to agree to terms, the cable system has no obligation to carry the station.

As a result, last night's FCC ruling is unlikely to slow the trend toward local stations demanding payment for carriage of digital signals.

But in addition to the "must carry" implications here, the FCC ruling has an important, and likely beneficial impact, for HD picture quality:

Lobbying pressure from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association forced Martin to yield not only on perpetual dual carriage but also on a second priority: Requiring cable systems to transmit "all content bits" in a digital TV signal, thereby eliminating the use of signal compression and statistical multiplexing that husband bandwidth.

First, California banned smoking in bars. Then, New York City mandated trans fat-free restaurants. Now, the UK oppposition party wants to ban plasma TVs.

When I was growing up, I used to think having a nanny would be cool. I was wrong.

From the UK newspaper, The Sun:

The Conservatives will propose banning plasma screens and other energy-guzzling electrical goods in a report to be unveiled next week. 

The proposals target white goods like fridges and freezers, as well as TVs, personal computers and DVD players that use too much energy or operate on stand-by.

The ideas come from a Conservative group set up by David Cameron to develop policies to protect the environment and although the measures to make household electrical appliances more energy efficient are not binding on Mr Cameron, they are thought likely to be warmly received by the Tory leader.

Warmly received? Mr. Cameron better watch his ass, or he'll be next victim of the carbon footprint stampede.