FCC: All-Digital WMCN Can't Gain DBS Carriage


WMCN in Atlantic City, N.J., is paying a price for being the first full-power commercial-TV station in the country to transition to all-digital broadcasting: It can't demand mandatory carriage from direct-broadcast satellite.

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are demanding that TV stations rush to digital and give back their analog licenses. But complying with those directives just cost WMCN access to DBS subscribers in the Philadelphia market.

WMCN filed a complaint with the FCC when EchoStar Communications Corp., owner of Dish Network, dropped the station. This occurred after WMCN (formerly WWAC) surrendered its analog license to the FCC and went all-digital Dec. 13, 2002, more than four years ahead of schedule.

The FCC rejected WMCN's complaint Tuesday for the simple reason that the agency has yet to adopt rules governing DBS carriage of digital-TV stations.

The commission is clinging to that position even though the law requires carriage of every requesting station in a market where DBS has elected to carry any station. Meanwhile, WMCN may demand cable carriage, either in digital or downconverted analog format, under FCC rules adopted in early 2001.

The WMCN decision was not the first time the agency delivered bad news to an all-digital TV station. In January 2003, the FCC refused to require EchoStar to carry WHDT in Stuart, Fla. -- a digital-TV station that provides HDTV programming on a 24-hour basis. WHDT was a new FCC licensee, and it never beamed analog service.