Broadcasters Challenge FCC

April 27, 2001

Three associations representing television broadcasters today told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the agency’s failure to require cable operators to carry local digital broadcast signals was inconsistent with the law and constituted a potential “death blow to an effective DTV transition.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) and the Association of Local Television Stations (ALTV) jointly petitioned the FCC to reconsider its Jan. 23 order, which declined to grant carriage rights to local broadcasters’ DTV signals during the transition and assured future carriage only for a single digital program stream. The broadcasters’ petition argues that the FCC’s decision, if left unchanged, will undermine the statutory directives and intent of the 1992 Cable Act, further stall the DTV transition, and permanently impair broadcast DTV service.

The petition argues that the 1992 Cable Act unambiguously requires cable operators to “carry . . . the signals of local commercial television stations,” making no distinction between analog and digital signals. Broadcasters said that, while the FCC acknowledged applicability of the statute’s command to digital signals, it provided no rationale for its decision to deny dual carriage.

    In addition, the Order’s interpretation of the term “primary video” to require carriage of only a single stream of video programming contravenes Congressional intent, by depriving cable subscribers access to free broadcast programming selected to reflect the tastes and needs of their local communities.

    The Cable Act also requires cable operators to carry broadcast signals with “no material degradation.” Broadcasters told the FCC that its application of this requirement to DTV carriage will indeed allow substantial degradation of the digital signal and must be changed on reconsideration.

    On Monday, at the opening of NAB’s annual convention in Las Vegas, NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts called cable’s failure to carry DTV signals “a tremendous obstacle in the consumer’s path to digital broadcasting.”

    NAB serves and represents Americas radio and television stations.