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Martin Proposes HD Relief Plan

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin is willing to help smaller cable operators avoid a possible capacity crunch following the February 2009 digital TV transition, but he's not about to give them everything they're asking for.

Speaking Tuesday morning at American Cable Association (ACA) Summit meeting in Washington, D.C., Martin proposed that cable systems with less than 552 MHz of capacity should be exempt from carrying a local broadcaster's signal in high-definition (HD) format. Moreover, he said those systems should be allowed to downconvert those signals to standard definition.

"If your system is smaller than 552 MHz, you will continue to serve your customers the same way you do today. As long as the signal is viewable to all subscribers, you will be able to downcast the digital signal the same way you do today," Martin said, according to press materials distributed by the ACA via email this morning.

While that may give smaller MSOs some bandwidth and capital relief, it falls short of the concessions that cable's top pressure groups were pushing for.

The ACA and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have been seeking a "blanket waiver" that would exempt systems with less than 552 MHz of activated capacity or fewer than 5,000 subscribers form carrying both analog and digital signals of TV stations that select "must carry" status following the transition date. (See McSlarrow Backs the Little Guys and Small Cable Lobby Asks for DTV Exemption .)

In addition to the bandwidth pressure the transition would cause, smaller operators have complained about the costs of compliance. The ACA says it will take a minimum of $28,600 to comply with must-carry rules, or $54,900 if the operator in question had yet to upgrade to digital.

Short of going all-digital, MSOs are required to deliver must-carry stations in analog and digital format for at least three years following the DTV transition. In the vote last September, the FCC also reaffirmed that MSOs must also carry the high-definition signal of broadcasters in the HD format. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.)

Although Martin appears unwilling to approve a blanket waiver, the ACA appeared satisfied that the Chairman was at least willing to give its members some capacity relief.

"The ACA and our more than 1,100 members are very pleased that an exception for carrying HD signals for the smallest systems serving the smallest communities has the support of the Chairman," ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka said, in a statement. "This was the right decision for the hundreds of system operators who didn't have the extra bandwidth to comply with the digital must-carry obligation."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:43:56 PM
re: Martin Proposes HD Relief Plan wait -- the ACA is complaining about the $28K cost of must-carry?

I realize we're talking about mom&pop cable operations in the hinterlands and all that. But even I could scrape up $28K if I had to. I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for the cable operators here.
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