Washington—Every member of the Federal Communications Commission except chairman Kevin Martin has voted to seek public comment on the cable industry's retransmission consent quiet period, according to an FCC official and industry officials.
"We understand that the FCC will have a notice of proposal making [NPRM] asking all sorts of questions about a quiet period," National Association of Broadcasters president David Rehr said Wednesday.
But Rehr insisted the FCC has no legal authority to impose a quiet period that would prevent TV stations from withholding their signals from cable operators, regardless of the unique circumstances surrounding the federally mandated shut off of analog TV signals on Feb. 17, 2009.
"That's what we believe, and when the [notice] comes out, we'll have a chance to really detail the analysis of it,” Rehr said.
An FCC official, who asked not to be identified, said the NPRM would be released once Martin voted for it as had the other four FCC members. In Sept. 15 House testimony, Martin supported a quiet period in concept and mentioned one close to the date of the DTV transition.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow said in a taped interview with C-SPAN that Martin was "floating consideration of a quiet period with the other offices and they are going to have a short comment period. But I haven't actually seen the item yet."
McSlarrow's entire interview, conducted as part of C-SPAN's The Communicators series, is to air Saturday, October 4 on C-SPAN at 6:30 p.m. ET and Monday, October 6 on C-SPAN 2 at 8 a.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET.
NCTA and the American Cable Association, a trade group of small cable operators, want the quiet period to begin no later than Dec. 31, 2008 before thousands of TV station carriage contracts expire. NAB's four-week quiet period wouldn't start until Feb. 4.
An FCC official said Martin supports a quiet period favorable to the broadcast industry, from Jan. 15, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2009. Democratic FCC member Jonathan Adelstein is backing a longer quiet period and one more to cable's liking, from Dec. 15, 2008 to Feb. 28, 2009.
"It's not clear exactly where they are," McSlarrow said. "I'm hopeful something will be looked at pretty soon."
Cable is concerned about consumer confusion if cable operators lose access to local TV stations in a few weeks prior to the switchover from analog to digital broadcasting, an epochal event about two decades in the making.
"That's precisely the time you want to avoid any mixed messages and get people to focus on what they need to do," McSlarrow said.
Cable, Rehr said, has ulterior motives.
"The quiet period is a red herring for people in cable and satellite who would prefer not to negotiate in good faith and get the deals done early," Rehr told reporters here. "The good news is a lot of cable, satellite and broadcasters are already working through retransmission consent deals. So I think it is a lot to do about nothing."