Paxson Goes to Court on Digital Must-Carry


Washington — Paxson Communications Corp., one of the largest TV-station owners in the country, is asking a federal court to require the Federal Communications Commission to issue rules quickly that would spell out cable-carriage rights of digital TV stations.

Paxson filed a writ of mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last Friday, claiming the FCC had allowed the issue to linger for six years. Paxson urged the court to give the FCC just 30 days from the date of the court’s order to issue the rules.

“The proceeding is simply at a standstill, apparently having been thrown into the ‘giant regulatory wastebasket’ by the FCC,” Paxson told the court.

Writs of mandamus are extraordinary requests and not routinely granted by the courts, an FCC source said Tuesday.

Over the cable industry’s objections, Paxson has repeatedly told the FCC that DTV stations are entitled to carriage of their analog and digital signals during the transition to all-digital broadcasting. After the transition, Paxson has said federal law required cable carriage of every programming service that a DTV station can cram into its digital bandwidth. Today, that’s about 5 or 6 channels.

In January 2001, the FCC ruled that TV stations may not elect mandatory carriage of their DTV signals until after they had surrendered their analog spectrum. Moreover, the agency said that after the transition, cable had to carry just a one DTV station signal, not several.

The agency also tentatively concluded that dual must carry violated cable’s First Amendment rights.

After the January 2001 decision, the FCC sought additional comment on DTV carriage issues but has not issued an order. FCC sources have said that a Media Bureau plan, which FCC chairman Michael Powell is hoping to adopt before the end of the year, would end the DTV transition on Dec. 31, 2008 and require cable to carry all DTV programming streams, reversing the ruling that stations were entitled to carriage of just one service.