FCC Grants Small Systems Dual-Carriage Exemption


The Federal Communications Commission approved a waiver to its must-carry rules for certain smaller cable operators, under which those operators will not be required to retransmit digital broadcast signals for three years after next February’s transition by full-power TV stations to all-digital broadcasts, according to the American Cable Association.

The FCC had included digital TV carriage on the agenda of the monthly open meeting scheduled for Aug. 22, but on Thursday removed the item because it had already been adopted. On Friday the FCC canceled the meeting.

Details of the exemption have not yet been released by the FCC.

The new rules, supported by FCC chairman Kevin Martin, apply to all cable systems regardless of channel capacity that have 2,500 subscribers or fewer and are not owned by Comcast or Time Warner, Multichannel Newsreported this month.

In addition, all cable systems at 552-Megahertz of capacity or less would be covered, with no limitation on ownership or number of subscribers.

“ACA thanks chairman Martin for his efforts and leadership in adopting this reasonable exemption and granting needed relief for thousands of cable system operators who had neither the extra bandwidth nor the budget to comply with the digital must carry obligation,” American Cable Association president and CEO Matthew Polka said, in a statement Friday.

Polka added, “ACA appreciates the commission’s action to recognize the unique circumstances of smaller, independent operators and the technological limitations of some cable systems.”

According to FCC officials, the waiver would allow eligible small systems to carry DTV stations only in analog when stations rely on their mandatory cable carriage rights. The new carriage rule would take effect Feb. 18, 2009, and last three years.

The ACA, which represents 1,100 small and midsize operators, had complained under the FCC’s previous must-carry rules for the digital TV transition, any cable company that was financially burdened by the policy would need to seek a waiver from the FCC. The ACA and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association called for a blanket waiver for small cable systems.