Public Stations May Offer Pay Services


Upholding a recent Federal Communications Commission ruling, a federal
appeals court Friday held that public TV stations may use some digital spectrum
to provide over-the-air pay-services.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
unanimously upheld a 2001 ruling by the FCC designed to give public TV stations
greater flexibility in the digital age.

The U.S. has about 350 public TV stations and nearly 60 percent missed the
FCC's May 1 deadline to begin transmitting digital-TV signals.

Addressing a challenge brought by the United Church of Christ and others, the
court said the FCC did not violate the law or ignore past regulatory actions in
allowing public TV stations to offer pay-services, as well as advertising
embedded in the pay services.

While giving public stations greater flexibility, the FCC did mandate that
they use their digital spectrum to broadcast at least one free off-air
programming service.

The 14-page opinion was written by Judge Judith W. Rogers and joined by
Judges Stephen F. Williams and A. Raymond Randolph.

The opinion was released just 59 days from the date of oral arguments -- an
unusually fast turnaround for a court that can take six months or more to
announce rulings.