The Federal Communications Commission said last week that
it is seeking public comment on whether a children's cable network should be allowed to
help direct-broadcast satellite providers meet their public-interest requirements.
In mid-April, Noggin -- the nascent children's network run
by Children's Television Network and Nickelodeon -- asked the FCC to endorse the 24-hour,
commercial-free channel as eligible for the DBS set-aside.
The FCC ruled last fall that DBS providers must set aside
at least 4 percent of their channel capacity for public-interest programming. To meet the
criteria, the channels must air commercial-free programming of an educational or
"We thought they were really singing our song,"
Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said.
Interested parties will be able to voice their opinions on
the matter, which is open for public comment until July 6. Noggin will then have until
July 21 to file reply comments. The FCC has an unspecified amount of time to make its
Ascheim said the ruling could help Noggin to gain
additional DBS carriage. Today, EchoStar Communications Corp., which serves roughly 2.4
million customers, offers the network on its "America's Top 100" package.
DirecTV Inc., with about 7 million customers between its
high-power and medium-power satellite services, does not yet offer the channel.
"I think satellite companies are eager to do the right
thing," Ascheim said, adding that even DBS providers don't have unlimited channel
An FCC nod to Noggin could help encourage others to develop
commercial-free programming, he added.
"There's been a lot of momentum to find private and
public partnerships," he said.
According to an April 15 letter by CTW outside legal
counsel Barbara Gardner, Noggin is requesting eligibility status based on an FCC
public-interest-obligations report and order that calls for a case-by-case eligibility
determination when a programmer is not organized under the tax code as a nonprofit
CTW is a nonprofit entity, but Nickelodeon's owner, Viacom
International Inc., is not.
DirecTV and EchoStar are still in the process of filling
their 4 percent capacity requirements, and the FCC is expected to authorize programming
entities that fit the set-aside requirements.
DBS operators and their competitors are debating what types
of programming should be eligible for the set-asides. Some cable interests believe
cable-created public-interest channels such as C-SPAN should not count toward the 4
percent, and DBS should create its own public-interest programming.
In April, BET Holdings Inc. chairman Robert L. Johnson
challenged DBS providers to sponsor a new public-affairs channel devoted to minority
Ted Hearn contributed to this story.