NCTA Wants Small Op Dual Carriage Exemption

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Washington – Small cable operators deserve an automatic exemption from new Federal Communications Commission mandates on the carriage of digital signals of local TV stations in early 2009, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow will say in Senate testimony Wednesday.

Under the rules, all cable systems will need to carry local TV stations that elect mandatory carriage in both analog and digital formats if the systems continue to provide analog programming services to subscribers after Feb. 17, 2009. On that date, all full-power TV station in the U.S. are required by law to shut off their analog signals.

In his testimony, McSlarrow said the FCC’s rules, which were adopted on Sept. 11 but have not released, should have exempted small operators and low-capacity systems from the dual carriage requirement, to remove economic and technological burdens on companies that lack regional scale like Comcast and Time Warner.

“The FCC should act now to approve a simple exemption that takes into account the circumstances of small operators and low capacity systems,” McSlarrow’s prepared testimony says.

NCTA’s small operator-system exemption was rejected by the FCC, mainly because FCC chairman Kevin Martin opposed it. Although Martin did agree to establish a wavier process for small cable, the FCC has not explained how it will issue waivers.

Referring to the FCC’s protracted and controversial response to cable set-top box waivers under Martin, McSlarrow says that he has little confidence that a new waiver process would provide the relief small operators need.

“Given the FCC’s poor record on waiver requests in other contexts, this (dual carriage waiver proposal) is little more than window dressing and unnecessarily burdensome,” McSlarrow says in a footnote to his testimony.

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