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FCC pulls must-carry proposal from meeting agenda

Wed, 10/15/2008 - 8:30am
Traci Patterson

The Federal Communications Commission has removed a proposal to require cable operators to carry hundreds of additional TV stations from today’s meeting agenda.

The proposal was supposed to be voted on today, but according to published reports, it did not have enough support from the five-member Commission.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has argued that small, low-power TV stations should be able to convert to full-power stations, and that they should have mandated pickup by large cable operators such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox.

Martin has said that the proposal would boost the reach of stations aimed at minority communities. Cable operators have said that the proposal would violate their First Amendment right. Operators have also said that the proposal would possibly disrupt the conversion to all-digital television.

As recently as last week, the American Cable Association (ACA) expressed its concerns to the proposal on the grounds that it was unnecessary and that it would strain the already overburdened system capacity of smaller cable operators.

“The Commissioner’s goal of promoting diverse programming is an admirable one, but this sort of mandate doesn’t serve consumer’s best interests,” said ACA CEO and President Matthew Polka. “Rather than mandating carriage, the Commission can promote more local and diverse programming by adopting modest reforms aimed at fixing the broken wholesale programming market, such as those contained in ACA’s proposal. 

“Preventing full-power broadcasters and programmers from coercing cable and satellite providers into paying for unwanted programming bundled with wanted channels would free up system capacity and cash better spent on carrying independent networks, including Class A stations. Given the FCC’s commitment to promoting diversity on television, we are hopeful that the Commission will adopt these changes this year.”

In September, to the relief of thousands of small operators, the FCC voted unanimously to grant small cable systems an exemption from having to carry the HD signal of must-carry stations (story here).

The FCC ruled that cable systems that either have 2,500 or fewer subscribers and are not affiliated with a large cable operator, or have an activated channel capacity of 552 MHz or less, are exempt from the requirement to carry high-definition versions of broadcast signals for three years following the digital television transition – until 2012.

The ACA’s other big concern associated with the digital transition is gaining a “quiet period” of sufficient length, during which retransmission arguments with programmers would be suspended to ensure no interruption of service leading into, or after, the transition date of Feb. 17.

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