A federal court should force the Federal Communications Commission to adopt final rules that address whether cable companies are required to carry multiple digital programming services of local TV stations, Paxson Communications Corp. said Wednesday.
In a filing that attacked years of inaction by the FCC, Paxson told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the FCC had failed to establish final rules, leaving both TV stations and cable companies in limbo about carriage rights once the transition to all-digital broadcasting is complete.
Paxson insisted that the FCC’s argument that final rules with regard to multicasting had been adopted in January 2001 was wrong and that statements by FCC members at the time and filings by industry participations during the last four years prove that all parties involved consider the multicasting issue unsettled.
“The FCC has a clear and unambiguous command from Congress to establish rules guaranteeing the carriage of broadcasters [digital] signals,” Paxson said in a 30-page brief. “Absent an order from this court, there is no telling when, if ever, the FCC will restore those rights or, at the very least, provide broadcasters with a final order that they can take to a federal court of appeals.”
In 2001, the FCC ruled that cable had to carry a DTV station’s “primary video,” which meant carriage of a single programming service. TV station owners, including Paxson, sought FCC reconsideration, arguing that primary video meant every free programming service — about 5 or 6 channels today — that can fit within the 6 Megahertz channel.
Last November, Paxson filed a writ of mandamus with the court seeking final FCC action within 30 days. The FCC opposed Paxson, saying the company could withdraw its reconsideration request and appeal the 2001 multicasting decision in court.
The cable industry’s supports the FCC’s conclusion that primary video meant one programming stream. MSOs and programmers fear that a multicast mandate would result in TV stations flooding cable channels with low-value infomercials and occupying channels intended for cable networks that don’t have an FCC license to reach TV viewers.