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Digital Must Carry

UPDATE (9/4): On August 21, the FCC adopted an Order providing an exemption for small cable systems from the onerous digital must carry requirements after the digital transition set for February 17, 2009.  This action comes after more than a year-long campaign by the ACA, which included numerous meetings and filings with the FCC and Congress.

The order exempts eligible cable systems from the requirement to carry the broadcasters' signal in a digital HD or SD format for three years, so long as it is available to all the system's subscribers in a viewable analog format.  The relief is available to cable systems with 2,500 subscribers or fewer, excluding systems affiliated with cable operators serving more than 10% of all MVPD customers.  All cable systems of 552 MHz or less would also be covered, regardless of system ownership. 

What is the Digital Television Transition? On February 17, 2009 all full-power broadcast television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog and begin broadcasting in digital only.  Along with the transition comes "digital must-carry" requirements, mandating that cable operators carry both the analog and digital transmissions of local stations.

Why Could Current DTV Must Carry Demands on Independent Cable Harm Consumers? Independent cable operators face unique challenges that require special consideration by the FCC in terms of how it deals with the digital television transition to ensure requirements do not impact the consumers or communities served - specifically, the digital must-carry requirements. It is not reasonable to expect a system serving a rural community of a few hundred homes to have the capacity to comply with this requirement, or the resources to purchase expensive equipment to provide a duplicate version of a must-carry signal."

Digital must-carry requirements from the FCC would place significant financial and capacity burdens on systems serving small and rural markets. When independent operators are forced to use limited infrastructure capacity towards dual carriage and to divert limited resources towards legal bills for waivers, their ability to provide consumers with broadband and other advanced services is greatly diminished.

What is ACA Doing About the DTV Transition? ACA is working diligently to inform the FCC on the unique burdens faced by independent cable operators serving small numbers of customers. The Association has submitted frequent filings and requested the FCC exempt systems serving 5,000 or fewer subscribers, and systems with 552 MHz of capacity or less, from the obligation to carry the digital version of a must-carry signal in addition to the analog version. ACA cited the capacity burdens that carriage of both the digital and the analog broadcast signals would place on systems serving small and rural markets, and the added flexibility that an exemption would offer these cable systems to direct capacity to providing consumers with broadband and other advanced services.

Demonstrating that ACA is being heard at the FCC, Chairman Kevin Martin announced his desire to grant relief for small cable systems from the requirement to carry an HD signal.

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