FCC’s Martin To Support Quiet Period

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Washington—Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin has agreed in principle to bar TV stations from pulling their signals from cable systems around the time of the Feb. 17, 2009 transition to digital television, FCC sources said this week.

The idea for a “quiet period” so that carriage disputes did not interfere with the DTV transition was first proposed to the FCC in April by five cable-operators, including Mediacom Communications, Charter Communications and GCI Cable.

At this point, Martin and the operators don’t agree on the length of the quiet period. In their filing, the MSOs said the duration of the quiet period should run from the date the FCC approved the idea until May 31, 2009.

Martin has proposed two quiet periods for the other four FCC members to consider: Either Jan. 15, 2009 to Feb. 28, 2009, or Dec. 15, 2008, to Feb. 28, 2009, an FCC official said.

Thousands of broadcasters’ carriage contracts are due to expire on Dec. 31, 2008. Renewal disputes could cost cable subscribers access to their local stations.

“We encourage the [FCC] to grant the widest possible window for the benefit of consumers and the DTV transition,” said American Cable Association president Matt Polka.

Dish Network, the No. 2 satellite TV provider, also endorsed the quiet period idea in an August 5 letter to the FCC.

“This is a common sense and pro-consumer means to separate out digital transition-related disruptions from commercial disputes between broadcasters and the TV providers,” Dish Network said.

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