Group Lobbying Congress To Step Into FCC Viewability Decision

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In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to sunset the viewability rule effective next December, a group of over 200 TV stations has sprung/risen up to lobby against that change.

According to a release issued by the lobbying/public affairs firm Podesta Group, Voices for Local TV has been formed to try and generate congressional pressure on the FCC to reverse course and extend the rule another three years.

A Podesta spokesperson said the National Association of Broadcasters is not a member of the newly formed coalition, but a number of broadcasters are, including Ion and Young Broadcasting, in a list supplied by Podesta that represents over 200 TV stations.

In a letter to the Hill, the coalition said that the sunset would have a "devastating" effect on them, "resulting in the loss of access to our local stations for 12.6 million cable households and 34 million viewers."

The FCC decided in September 2007 that in order to ensure that all must-carry TV stations were viewable by all subscribers after the switch to all-digital broadcasting, cable operators, for a period of three years from the DTV switch date, would be required--in addition to carrying digital signals--to convert digital signals to analog, either at the headend or with converter boxes, so the digital signals were still viewable by their analog cable customers.

The commission has now proposed to sunset that requirement, saying that it is now met by the combination of free and low-cost boxes available.

Since nonmust-carry stations have already negotiated carriage as part of their deals, stations affected are smaller stations and independents that have to invoke must carry status to insure coverage. They say that status would be threatened by asking viewers pay to extra to preserve a few such stations in each market. "It is wholly impractical to require cable customers to add set-top boxes solely for the purpose of viewing a few must-carry stations," they argue.

Voices for Local TV will have to talk fast. The proposed order being circulated by the chairman this week needs to be voted by June 12 or the rule sunsets immediately, as would a small cable operator waiver of associated HD carriage mandates that the FCC does support extending for another three years.

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