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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 12, 2012

FCC Extends Viewability Rule for Six Months

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

It was reported on Monday that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) is considering a proposal that would free cable operators from the dual-carriage viewability rule. As a result, cable operators will no longer have to retransmit must-carry signals in both analog and digital formats. The proposal, if passed, would go in effect on December 11, 2012, as per the report.

However, in the meantime, FCC has extended its viewability rule for six months. The rule requires cable operators to ensure that all of their customers have access to local must-carry TV signals until Dec. 12. It was slated to expire on Tuesday June 12th. Without the rule, cable’s analog TV subscribers will have to use digital-to-analog (DAC) converter boxes to continue receiving broadcast TV must-carry signals.

Media reports show that the FCC proposal by Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) comes as a victory for cable operators, but a defeat for small independent and foreign-language broadcasters. These broadcasters fear that without the rule they will lose a good percentage of their audiences. 

In his blog “Beyond the Headlines, Broadcast Engineering’s Mike Grotticelli wrote that chairman Genachowski is pushing the proposal, which would substitute low-cost converter boxes to allow analog customers to continue to view TV station signals.

To facilitate digital TV transition, according to Broadcast Engineering blog, cable operators had originally agreed to carry both the analog and digital signals. “Now they want to end the mandate, which was set to expire on Tuesday,” wrote Grotticelli. However, the new FCC ruling would provide a six-month transition period beyond the June 12 sunset date.

As per the blog, FCC order said, “We believe the viewability requirement is best read to give the operator of a hybrid system [digital and analog] greater flexibility in deciding how to comply with the viewability mandate.” The order further stated, “In particular, while such an operator may continue to carry must-carry signals in a format that is capable of being viewed by analog service customers without the use of additional equipment, rapid changes in the marketplace and technology, in particular the widespread availability of small digital set-top boxes [that] cable operators make available at low or no cost to analog customers of hybrid systems provide alternative means by which must-carry television signals can be made viewable to all analog customers.”

Furthermore, the FCC also emphasizes the benefits of using the analog capacity for new digital channels and increased broadband. The FCC order stated, “The low-cost set-top box offers reflected in our record will satisfy our new interpretation of the viewability requirement, permitting the cable operator to make the must-carry signal available by offering analog customers the necessary digital equipment at an affordable cost.”

The Broadcast Engineering blog quoted Peggy Binzel, from the Independent Voices for Local TV, as saying, “By making the broadcast stations viewable, FCC is pushing the burden on to consumers.”

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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