No Consent Necessary For the last two weeks, I have been providing all the background arguments regarding the logical inconsistencies of the "retransmission consent" rules. I did that because it’s clear there will be an increasing number of public battles over retransmission consent as broadcasters decide to exercise their leverage in local markets and demand payment if consumers need, or find it convenient, to get delivery of the broadcast signals via their cable system. The broadcasters are demanding "Fee TV" as opposed to their license obligation to provide "Free TV." Cable is not selling the broadcaster’s programming. Cable is delivering the programming that the broadcaster has tried but failed to effectively deliver over the air. They should be paying us! But never mind all that. Now that you know the background and the arguments, what can we do about it? Clearly the broadcasters, or at least some of them, have decided to go for the fee, and smaller cable operators in smaller markets have very little leverage to protect their customers from "Fee TV"… Or do they? How about not "retransmitting" the signal at all? Notice I didn’t say the customer didn’t get the signal, I just said the cable operator need not "retransmit" it. There is a very important date coming up to keep in mind with this idea. It’s Feb. 17, 2009. On that day, if we are to believe the government, all broadcasters will turn off their analog transmitters and send signals only digitally. Now as we all know, if a digital signal is properly received, it results in a perfectly good picture—a "crystal clear" picture as it was described in the early days of DBS delivery of digital signals. No snow, no multi-path distortion, no "ghosts." So why should we "retransmit" it at all? Why not start developing equipment in television sets, DVRs, set top boxes, etc., that can take that digital broadcast signal picked up in the customer’s home and show it on the television along with all the cable channels, or the video game, the VOD feed or the DVD? It’s not technically hard, and the consumer won’t see any difference between all those digital feeds. The cable operator will no longer be "retransmitting." No consent necessary. As many of you know, I have been consulting for the past two years with a group of friends to help develop new cable technology that would allow for cable program delivery with "downloadable security" at low cost. The "BBT" technology (Cfax, 12/22) was noted by the FCC recently. This new technology will be licensed and could be in a low cost "set top" box or even built right into the television set, the DVR or whatever. What’s important here, however, is that the designs already include a connector so cable customers can simply attach a digital antenna at home and receive their perfect, digital "DTV" signals. Any manufacturer could do that. It’s similar to what the government is going to fund for folks who have analog sets and don’t get cable or satellite delivery, and who want to see the new DTV signals. It’s the same approach DBS used until they got "local into local" authority to "retransmit" via the satellite. But now, the digital signal comes directly into the home. No "retransmission." No consent necessary. Do I think this is a great way to go? No, it would be simpler for our customers if the broadcasters worked with us to deliver their signals. But if they insist on "Fee TV," it’s certainly a reasonable alternative.

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