And it comes with some caveats. Among them, MSOs could still migrate some channels if they need to free up spectrum to comply with a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that requires most operators to deliver “must carry” TV stations in analog and digital format after full-power broadcasters make the switch on Feb. 17, 2009. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)
National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow outlined the plan in identical letters sent today to the U.S. House and Senate Conference Committees, noting that the proposed quiet period would run from Dec. 31, 2008, to March 1, 2009.
“We will also offer a promotional package of the broadcast basic tier to new customers starting December 31, 2008, a suggestion made by some of the leading broadcasters to facilitate the broadcaster DTV transition,” McSlarrow wrote.
Assuming that not all issues tied to the DTV transition will be resolved by Feb. 17, 2009, cable operators that are on board with the program pledge, on request, to offer free equipment to analog cable homes for “at least a year.”
Fourteen NCTA members that own and operate cable systems serving 90 percent of U.S. cable subs joined the commitment:
- Advance/Newhouse Communications (Bright House Networks )
- Bresnan Communications LLC
- Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)
- Charter Communications Inc.
- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)
- Cox Communications Inc.
- Eagle Communications
- Insight Communications Co. Inc.
- Mediacom Communications Corp.
- Midcontinent Communications
- Sjoberg’s Inc.
- Suddenlink Communications
- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)
- US Cable Corporation
The voluntary proposal arrives after FCC Chairman Kevin Martin launched an investigation into whether U.S. cable’s digital migration policies were driving up bills and equipment fees.
It also shows up as some operators move ahead with digital transition plans of their own that aim to reclaim valuable analog spectrum that can be reapplied toward broader high-definition television and video-on-demand menus, as well as speedier Docsis 3.0-based Internet services. (See Comporium Tests Positive for DTAs, Comcast IDs First DTA Market, Cable ONE Seeks Hi-Def DTA Waiver , and Comcast Seeds Digital Shift With Free Boxes.)
“Nonetheless, we recognize that the overlap between cable’s digital migration and the broadcasters’ DTV transition… inescapably adds a layer of complexity and the potential for consumer confusion,” McSlarrow added.
The proposal also calls on MSOs to give “clear and conspicuous notice” to subs and franchising authorities at least 30 days before analog channels are moved to digital-only tiers.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News