FCC Details Small Cable DTV Exemption
The FCC confirmed the adoption of the order on Aug. 22, but is just now getting around to posting the nitty gritty. (See FCC Gives DTV Relief .)
As expected, the FCC has extended a three-year "blanket" rule to systems with 2,500 or fewer customers or with activated capacity of 552 MHz or less, exempting them from carrying broadcast signals in high-definition (HD) or any other digital format.
Systems that don’t fall into either of those categories are still free to file for individual waivers. The FCC said it would "expedite" the waiver review process for systems with 5,000 or fewer subs, promising to resolve such requests no later than 30 days after they are received by the Commission.
Both the American Cable Association (ACA) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) fought for the new rule, claiming that many smaller cable systems don't have the capacity or the funds to do dual must-carry. (See Small Cable Lobby Asks for DTV Exemption and McSlarrow Backs the Little Guys .)
Before details of the order were published, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) came out against it, arguing that the exemption from the material degradation requirement to carry HD television broadcast signals would "undermine" the HD television movement and cause consumer confusion. (See NAB: We've Got Issues With DTV Order and Blanket Bewilderment?.)
For its part, the FCC clarified that its rules do not require cable operators, irrespective of system size, to carry a standard-definition digital version of a broadcast station's signal, in addition to the analog version, to satisfy the material degradation requirement issued in an earlier order.
"This is because both an SD digital version and an analog version of the digital broadcast signal received at the headend should have the same resolution -- 480i -- and thus there should be no perceivable difference between the two versions of the signal," the FCC noted in the order posted today.
Cable still didn't get everything it wanted, however. Systems with 2,500 or fewer subs are exempt so long as they are not affiliated with an MSO serving more than 10 percent of all multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) customers, holding that larger operators can more easily bear the "upgrade cost burden" required for dual must-carry. So Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) systems need not apply. But, as the ACA reads it, cable systems with 552 MHz or less of capacity are covered, regardless of system ownership.
“This exemption is a reprieve to thousands of cable system operators who had neither the extra bandwidth nor the budget to comply with the digital must-carry obligation," said ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka, in a statement.
Moving forward, Polka said the ACA will now focus on its urging of the FCC to adopt a six-month retransmission consent "quiet period" that runs from Jan. 1 through May 31, 2009. (See 'Quiet Period' Noise .)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News