In a pact with NCTA, public broadcast stations will get what their commercial broadcast brethren have been whining about for years: dual carriage and multicasting rights. Detractors might try to argue (in fact, they did; see NAB’s statement) that it’s much easier for cable to reach a deal with public broadcasters, but that shouldn’t take away from the magnitude of the arrangement with Assoc of Public TV Stations and PBS; and it’s a nice swan song for Robert Sachs. The 10-yr deal has upgraded cable ops carrying public broadcasters’ analog and digital signals during the DTV transition, as well as up to 4 multicast streams by a single station in a market. After the digital transition, cable will carry up to 4 multicast streams for every must-carry public broadcast station (i.e., some markets, such as DC, have more than 1 must-carry station). The agreement won’t take effect until NCTA and APTS boards approve it, and then it must be ratified within 60 days by cable ops that serve 80% of cable subs and public stations that reach 80% of TV HHs. Sachs and APTS pres John Lawson anticipate approval. MSOs will begin carrying public stations not later than 180 days after ratification. Poised to lose its multicast fight at the FCC next month, NAB was unimpressed. "Because of govt underwriting of PBS, it’s easy to see why the cable industry was motivated to reach this tentative agreement," it said. "We would hope that NCTA and its members would reconsider their hardline position and use the PBS agreement as a template for negotiating carriage of commercial DTV programming." But NCTA’s tried negotiating with commercial broadcasters, to no avail, Sachs said. That’s why NCTA "turned our attention to public TV," he said. "I think the challenge that commercial broadcasters face is that there is no unity among [them] as to what they want." The FCC is set to vote Feb 10 on a proposal that would kill multicast must-carry. Chmn Michael Powell and commissioners Jonathan Adelstein (D) and Kathleen Abernathy (R) praised the voluntary agreement, which took 18 months to negotiate.

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