Cable nets sue over must-carry

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A half-dozen of the biggest names in cable TV programming sued the FCC in federal court Monday for violating their free speech rights when it ordered, in effect, that cable systems carry broadcasters' analog and digital channels.

C-SPAN, Discovery Communications, the Weather Channel, TV One, A&E Television Networks and Scripps Networks told the court that the FCC was playing favorites by granting broadcasters "dual must-carry" rights.

Under the rule, almost all cable operators must re-create the analog version of a local broadcast station's signal and then devote channel space to carry two versions — both the analog and digital versions — for at least the following three years.

The cable programmers claim that the rule favors broadcasters at their expense because it squeezes them off of cable systems in favor of broadcast programming. They also argue that the FCC far exceeded its congressional authority to regulate programmers.

Said C-SPAN chairman Brian Lamb: "The Supreme Court has made it very clear that cable programmers have First Amendment rights, so it is frustrating to us and the other companies involved in this appeal that our audiences risk losing our programming and that we have to go to court just to get a fair shake from the FCC."

Broadcasters accused the cable industry of breaking a promise to carry both the analog and digital signals during the switch to digital TV.

"Today's lawsuit by a handful of self-serving pay TV programmers represents yet another attempt by cable interests to block a successful digital television transition," National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said. "By reneging on the (cable industry) commitment to preserve cable carriage of local broadcast stations to all cable customers after February 2009, these programmers threaten to block consumer access to scores of foreign- language and religious TV stations all over America."
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