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Supreme Court rejects appeal of must-carry rule

Mon, 05/17/2010 - 8:50am
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court has declined to take up a challenge from cable television operators to the 18-year-old requirement that they carry local broadcast stations on their systems.

The justices rejected an appeal Monday from Cablevision Systems Corp. The court upheld a federal "must-carry" law, enacted in 1992 when cable TV systems faced much less competition than they do today.

Cablevision, the nation's fifth-largest cable TV operator, sued the Federal Communications Commission over its ruling that forced Cablevision to carry the signal of a distant home-shopping station on its Long Island cable systems. The federal appeals court in New York upheld the FCC's determination.

Cablevision said in court papers that "the monopolistic nature of the cable industry ... has been replaced by vibrant competition."

The Obama administration urged the court to stay out of the case. It noted that being carried on cable systems "remains critical to broadcast stations' financial viability generally."

From the cable industry’s point of view, the problem with must-carry goes beyond First Amendment rights; it is tied in with the retransmission fights they’ve been having with broadcasters.

Broadcasters are boosting their income by charging cable companies significantly higher fees for their content. With the current must-carry status quo now affirmed by the Supreme Court, retransmission negotiations are likely to become even more bitter, with broadcasters feeling more emboldened and cable operators – especially the smallest ones – denied the leverage of being able to drop broadcast stations should the fees they request become too exorbitant.

C-SPAN, Discovery Communications and Time Warner Cable filed briefs in support of Cablevision. C-SPAN said 12 million cables homes lost all or some access to its programming when cable operators were forced to make room for broadcast stations in the 1990s.

The station, WRNN, is based in Kingston, N.Y., about 90 miles north of New York City.

The case is Cablevision v. FCC, 09-901.

– CED’s Brian Santo contributed to this report

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