As the DTV transition approaches, it’s not all "Kumbaya" between the impacted industries. Punches are starting to get thrown. It started with an article in the Nov issue of Consumer Reports about cable operators moving channels to digital from analog to free up more bandwidth. It’s a practice that operators have employed for years as they move to all digital—and going all digital is something that the FCC has encouraged, even granting set-top integration ban waivers to operators who pledge to do so by Feb 17. Consumers Union dubs the migration as a "rate hike" since customers often have to pay for digital boxes to see the channels. "It seems that cable companies are using confusion about the forthcoming digital TV transition—which applies only to TVs with antennas, not to TVs with cable—as a chance to boost the bills of cable customers," says the magazine, which is published by the Consumers Union. NAB, which has been arguing with cable over the time period for a retrans quiet period to avoid DTV transition confusion if a broadcaster pulls its signal, quickly jumped on the Consumer Reports piece. "If true, the Consumer Reports allegations raise disturbing questions about the cable industry that might be worthy of an FCC review," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in an email alerting reporters to the story Wed. "While broadcasters have donated a billion dollars in airtime and education to ensure a seamless transition to digital television, some in the cable industry seem to view DTV as merely an opportunity to raise rates. Consumers deserve factual information about the DTV transition from cable MSOs, not more confusion and higher bills." Adding to the ammunition is that some cable operators, including Comcast, have started announcing their periodic price increases for some levels of service. NCTA fired back, with a spokesman calling NAB’s statement "bizarre and petty." "Let’s face it: this is a pathetic attempt to use the digital transition to mask the obvious desire by some stations to impose many millions of dollars for what is otherwise free over the air TV by misuse of retransmission consent," said NCTA’s Brian Dietz, who added that cable was the 1st industry to announce and execute a $200mln campaign that promoted the govt’s converter box coupon program for over-the-air households and transition education. In related news, Comcast on Wed announced a new initiative to offer free basic cable for 12 months to those opting for at least one additional Comcast service (phone or HSD). New subs not choosing the option can get basic cable for $10/month for the full year; current subs can add basic to additional TVs at no additional cost. Dietz said many NAB members publicly urged that very promo.

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FCC Seeks Comment on NAB NextGen Petition

The FCC Media Bureau is seeking comment on NAB’s petition regarding the treatment of multicast streams under the NexGen TV local simulcasting rules.

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