NTIA Supports Retransmission-Consent Quiet Period

11/14/2008 10:54 AM Eastern

After pulling data indicating that a recent TV-station blackout increased digital-to-analog converter box coupon requests, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Friday voiced support for a retransmission-consent quiet period to limit potential confusion and service disruptions during the all-digital TV transition next February.

Meredith Attwell BakerIn a letter to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Congressman Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), the NTIA seemingly endorsed the initiation of a carriage agreement quiet period for cable operators and broadcasters during the time before and after the February DTV transition to avoid public confusion that could cause added strain on the government’s transition assistance program. 

In the missive, NTIA Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Meredith Attwell Baker said, “a retransmission consent ‘quiet period’ would be helpful in reducing consumer confusion during the DTV transition.”

Baker did not say when the quiet period should begin or end. Cable wants it to start no later than Dec. 31 before thousands of current contracts expire.

The letter was written in response to a recent request for information by Reps. Eshoo and Deal regarding a month-long service disruption in 10 cities when LIN TV pulled 15 stations from Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks subscribers. 

“Dropped stations confuse cable and satellite customers who then needlessly request digital-to-analog converter boxes,” American Cable Association president Matt Polka said in a press release Friday. “A quiet period must be in place before the end of the year when thousands of broadcast carriage agreements expire.  That is the only way to ensure dropped broadcast signals do not needlessly increase coupon demand and threaten the sustainability of the coupon program, and the success of the DTV transition.  We call on FCC Chairman [Kevin] Martin to immediately issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the quiet period with an expedited comment and reply period.”

The ACA claims that the increase in coupon demand in the markets examined by the NTIA was caused in part by confused cable customers, an assertion that is says is now supported by government findings. 

Martin told reporters Tuesday that he would issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the quiet period, which the other four commissioners have already voted to release.  To date, Martin has not yet issued the rulemaking.

On Oct. 22 Eshoo and Deal sent a letter to the NTIA and the FCC requesting data to determine the increase in coupon demands in the markets affected by the broadcast carriage dispute between LIN TV and both Time Warner Cable and Bright House.  Eshoo and Deal both support the establishment of quiet period in which neither broadcasters nor video operators may drop signals around the time of the transition.

In October LIN TV blacked out 15 of its stations to as many as 1.5 million Time Warner Cable and Bright House subscribers in 11 television markets during a month-long dispute.

In July the American Cable Association first urged the Commission to prohibit broadcasters and operators from pulling television stations from cable and satellite TV customers for a period of time around the digital transition that lasts until at least May 31, 2009.

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