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Regulatory Ticker

It was a busy week in D.C., as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made some noise, proposals, and suggestions that could end up having a profound effect on cable operators and how they do business.

Here's a quick snapshot of two FCC moves and how the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , the U.S. cable industry's biggest lobbying arm, responded in kind...

Issue: Carriage of broadcaster signals in both digital and analog formats after the 2009 digital transition

FCC Actions: Is proposing a requirement that cable operators either: (1) carry the signals of all must-carry stations in an analog format to all analog cable subs; or (2) for all-digital systems to carry signals only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the "necessary equipment" (i.e., digital set-tops) to view broadcast content.

The proposal, the FCC insisted, is "to ensure all cable subscribers, including those with analog TV sets, can view must-carry television stations on cable systems after the transition to digital television occurs on February 17, 2009."

Further, the Commission reaffirmed that cable systems must carry high-definition broadcast signals in HD format, and said it will seek comment on whether the FCC should apply an "objective" measure on what constitutes material degradation. A suggested remedy: Require cable operators to carry all "content bits" transmitted by the broadcaster.

NCTA Response: Been there, done that, calling the proposal a "completely unnecessary government intrusion into the marketplace."

"The cable industry is already there; we've committed to Congress and the federal government that we will ensure that the transition is seamless for all our customers," said NCTA President & CEO Kyle McSlarrow. He did pledge, however, that the cable industry will work with all parties "to explore constructive ideas that actually help the consumer without unnecessarily violating the First Amendment."

Issue: The impact of violent TV programming on children

FCC Actions/Recommendations: Cites research finding that exposure to violence in the media "can increase aggressive behavior in children, at least in the short term."

Among recommended actions and observations, the report notes "limited effectiveness" of the V-chip, and "observes" that cable-supplied "advanced parental controls do not appear to be available on a sufficient number of cable-connected television sets to be considered an effective solution at this time."

Further, believes multichannel video programming providers (i.e. cable and telco TV providers) could allow consumers to avoid violent programming by offering content on an à la carte basis.

NCTA Response: The cable industry believes "consumers are the best judge of which content is appropriate for their household," and existing parental controls do the job. Additionally, "Simple sounding solutions, such as à la carte regulation of cable TV packages, are misguided and would endanger cable's high-quality family friendly programming, leaving parents and children with fewer viewing options," according to NCTA Spokesman Brian Dietz.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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