Carrying on about carriage


Both the NAB and the NCTA hailed the FCC’s decision on mandatory dual carriage of both digital and analog television streams during the first three years of digital-only broadcast (with provisions for an extension if necessary). However, that approval did not extend to the American Cable Association, the organization of smaller operators.

NAB EVP Dennis Wharton said, "Yesterday’s ruling is an important step in protecting analog cable subscribers from losing access to some of the most diverse programming on television, including religious and Spanish-language programming. NAB applauds the FCC for crafting a solution that prevents cable gatekeepers from discriminating against niche and minority TV stations that play a vital role in the fabric of American society. We also salute the FCC for protecting consumers against material degradation by cable operators. For over a decade, broadcasters have embarked on a monumental effort to bring Americans the most pristine television pictures ever witnessed by the human eye. Yesterday’s FCC rulings ensure that cable operators not be allowed to thwart that mission."

At NCTA, Kyle McSlarrow was also claiming victory, saying, "I want to thank each member of the FCC for engaging so constructively and fairly with our industry…We are pleased that the FCC’s action today adopts cable’s carriage plan. And we are pleased that the FCC dropped an ill-considered mandate that would have turned back the clock on decades of digital technology innovation. We continue to urge the FCC to act quickly to take into account the special circumstances of very small systems, and to make clear that those systems have the flexibility to serve all their customers without a one-size fits all mandate."

McSlarrow was talking about ACA members at the end, there, and ACA’s Matt Polka was not happy with the rules. "The ACA and its membership are disappointed because the order fails to sufficiently recognize the detrimental impact that this carriage requirement will have on small, rural cable operators and their ability to provide broadband services." He said the cost of dual carriage could exceed 150K annually, forcing tough choices up to and including a possible decision to go out of business.

TVBR/RBR observation: Commissioners Michael Copps (D) and Jonathan Adelstein (D) both mentioned the plight of small operators. They will be able to apply for a waiver of the dual carriage requirement, but the two Democrats felt there should have been a blanket exemption for systems falling beneath certain agreed-upon benchmarks. We’ll have to see if ACA can make enough noise to provoke a further notice on this topic.