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McSlarrow Backs the Little Guys

The head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support a blanket waiver that would exempt some smaller cable systems from carrying both analog and digital signals of “must carry” TV stations following the February 2009 transition.

Following an FCC vote last November, most cable operators are mandated to carry those must carry stations in both formats through 2012. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.) A category of smaller operators with activated capacity of 552 MHz or less may request a hardship waiver on the dual-carriage requirements. American Cable Association (ACA) has argued that dual carriage would create, in addition to a potential capacity crunch, a significant financial burden on smaller operators. The ACA estimates that dual-carriage costs could exceed $150,000 for each operator.

Although the NCTA was successful in obtaining a three-year compromise on the dual-carriage requirements -- though the FCC is expected to conduct a formal review during its final year -- cable’s top pressure group was unsuccessful in obtaining a blanket waiver for smaller operators.

The waiver sought by the NCTA would apply to cable systems which have channel capacity of 552 MHz or less or serve fewer than 5,000 subscribers. A typical “upgraded” system is built out to 750 MHz or more.

The comment cycle on the "must carry" matter is scheduled to close March 17, 2008. It’s not known when the FCC will take action in response to the comments filed.

Some cable programmers have already taken issue with the dual-carriage ruling. Earlier this month, six national networks, filed a suit against the FCC, claiming the rule violates their First Amendment speech rights and gives an “unfair and illegal” advantage to local broadcast stations in securing cable system carriage. (See Cable Programmers Sue FCC .)

Last week, FCC chairman Kevin Martin called on cable operators to help out more than 7,300 low-power television stations that will continue to broadcast in analog after the February 2009 transition. He’s asking cable MSOs and satellite TV service providers to offer expanded carriage of LPTV stations “on a voluntary basis where they have the capacity.” (See The Friday Five .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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