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FCC Gives DTV Relief

Jeff Baumgartner

11:00 AM -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) canceled its open meeting scheduled for this morning, but the Commission has apparently gone ahead and adopted an order that would offer temporary relief to some smaller cable systems ahead of the February 2009 digital television transition.

A posting on the agency's Website notes that the Commission has OK'd a "Fourth Report and Order concerning issues related to mandatory cable carriage of digital broadcast television signals after the conclusion of the digital... transition."

The FCC, which was not immediately available for comment this morning, has yet to publish the order just adopted, but it's believed to be tied to an earlier proposal that will exempt a certain class of cable operators from adhering to an earlier ruling that will require other MSOs to deliver "must carry" broadcast signals in digital and analog format starting Feb. 17, 2009. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)

Earlier reports indicate that the order extends a three-year exemption to systems with 2,500 or fewer customers, but this exemption would not apply to some larger MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). However, this "blanket waiver" exemption would also cover systems with activated capacity of 552 MHz or less. (See Blanket Bewilderment?)

The American Cable Association (ACA) , a pressure group representing 1,100 small and mid-sized independent cable companies, had requested an exemption for systems with either 552 MHz of capacity or less or 5,000 subscribers or less. (See Small Cable Lobby Asks for DTV Exemption .)

Although details of the order are not yet public, the ACA applauded the FCC's decision.

"Adoption of a reasonable exemption for small cable operators is a victory to the thousands of small communities and millions of consumers served by ACA’s members,” ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka said, in a statement. "We look forward to learning the details of this much-needed exemption, and appreciate the Commission’s expected action to recognize the unique circumstances of smaller, independent operators and the technological limitations of some cable systems.”

We'll provide more details on the FCC order as they become available.

Update: An FCC official confirmed that the order has indeed been adopted and is being prepared for release "soon," but likely won't be published today.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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