Industry Groups Testify on HD Must-Carry Rules

Published May 10, 2012

The American Cable Association and the National Association of Broadcasters are asking the Federal Communications Commission to reexamine the agency’s rules regarding broadcast carriage and retransmission rules for high-definition telecasts.

Both organizations testified before the FCC in March. The ACA urged the FCC to continue the agency’s “must-carry” mandate that requires cable operators to carry channels in HD if that’s how they are broadcast over the air. Currently, the FCC grants exemptions of the mandate on a case-by-case basis for small cable companies. Both the mandate and the exemptions began after the transition from analog to digital television in 2009.

Although both organizations stated they favored allowing exemptions, the NAB argued small operators able to deliver cable TV channels in HD shouldn’t receive FCC exemptions from retransmitting must-carry HD stations. The NAB asserts such exemptions amount to FCC favoritism.”

Content Convergence
Congress drafted the HD carriage mandate to keep cable companies from prioritizing or degrading content from competitors. The NAB testified broadcasters are negatively impacted when cable operators carrying one or more HD channels are exempted from having to carry HD stations in HD.

The ACA counters that the number of cable multiple-service operators seeking an FCC exemption has decreased. The organization advocates for permanent exemptions for small analog-only systems. The ACA states broadcasters routinely allow analog-only systems to carry their channels in analog.

“Small MSOs that are not paying for retransmisson shouldn’t be able to have their cake and eat it too,” said New York-based attorney Craig Delsack, who specializes in media and entertainment. “If the small multiple-service operator can’t afford to carry over-the-air in HD, then it shouldn’t be carrying some networks in HD but leave out the broadcasters.”

Not ‘All or None’
“The exemption for small operators is reminiscent of the early arguments against must-carry,” said T. Barton Carter, chairman of Boston University’s department of mass communications, advertising, and public relations.

“When cable systems only had 12, 25, or 35 channels, operators argued that must-carry would use the majority of those channels, preventing the development of cable networks. The eventual solution to the issue at the time was putting a cap on the number of channels that could be used for must-carry based on the total number of useable channels,” he said.

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.