FCC to Review Hot-Button Topics

WASHINGTON The Federal Communications Commission said it would consider overturning its previous decree that cable operators carry only one of each broadcaster’s digital programming streams.

The FCC also said it intends to begin months of study and debate leading to another decision on how to revamp media ownership regulations. The commission last debated such issues three years ago.

The issues were included on a tentative agenda released late Wednesday for the agency’s monthly meeting set for June 21. Inclusion on the agenda indicates that FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, thinks he can win enough votes on the five-member commission to carry his positions.

With the June 1 swearing-in of commissioner Robert McDowell, Martin gained a Republican majority for the first time since becoming chairman in early 2005. Martin alone among commissioners last year voted to require cable operators to carry all of the four or more programs each broadcaster can transmit using digital technology.

Broadcasters have said they need assured carriage on cable systems to ensure an audience for local channels. Cable operators maintain it is unfair to be forced to carry more than the one programming stream. In any event, they said, they would voluntarily carry compelling programming regardless of the source.

The FCC must reconsider media ownership rules because a federal court in 2004 rejected its loosening of the regulations. Martin is especially critical of the rule barring daily newspapers from owning nearby broadcast stations.