Re: Cable TV Broadcast Retransmission Consent Feuds "Ease Up" [Telecom]

This article (including comments from me writing as texascableguy) > continues at: >
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> In 1992, Congress enacted the Cable Television Consumer Protection > and Competition Act of 1992. This act gave broadcast station > licensees control over cable-system carriage of their signals. Under > this Act, each licensee has the right to choose two options with > respect to any given cable system: > - MUST CARRY: The cable system must carry the signal under technical > rules specified by the FCC. However, the station cannot charge for > the use of its signal. > - RETRANSMISSION CONSENT: The cable system is required to obtain the > permission of the licensee. The licensee is free to demand > compensation or impose other requirements. > Most large regi > How do these rules apply to each multi-plexed programming stream of > a digital broadcaster choosing [to invoke the] "must carry" > [option]? Or does it apply only to the first subchannel?

The must-carry rule applies only to the main channels of full-power stations -- the channels typically numbered X-1 or X.1. Stations that elect retransmission consent are free to demand just about anything.

If that subchannel is HD and the cable system offers HD channels, > must it be carried as HD?

If "that subchannel" is the main channel (and if the station is a full-power station, not an LPTV), then yes, it must be offered in digital format. Furthermore, for a period of three years following the 06/12/09 DTV transition date, cable TV systems must carry it simultaneously in analog AND digital for the benefit of subscribers who do not own DTV sets. (This requirement does not apply to satellite companies because their signals [are] all already carried digitally.)

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Note that "digital" is not necessarily the same as "HD." All high-def signals are digital, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

Although the must-carry rules do not apply to subchannels, a cable or satellite company may carry any subchannel voluntarily. Full-power stations electing retransmission consent may demand carriage of some or all subchannels in their retrans-consent agreements. In theory, these are free-market negotiations between the broadcasters and cable/satellite companies, although (in my not-unbiased opinion), the law is stacked in favor of the broadcasters.

An independent broadcaster in Chicago owns a full power license and > several low power licenses. It has mixed and matched programming > over the years, typically introducing new program concepts on one of > the low power stations before simulcasting it or moving it [to] a > subchannel of the full power digital station. > Does simulcasting via one of their low power stations give them > additional clout when negotiating carriage because the law gives > them additional privileges for owning more licenses?

The rules governing carriage of LPTV stations are murky.

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In general, LPTV stations have no must-carry rights with respect to either cable TV or satellite. As to "additional clout," I would say that LPTV stations have approximately zero clout.

It's certainly possible that an LPTV could do such a good job that a cable TV company would carry it voluntarily, particularly in small markets in which the LPTV is the only local station. But that's a free-market decision between the LPTV and the cable company.

They've complained for years that DirecTV and Dish won't carry all > programming streams, even the ones simulcast on one of the low power > stations.

The must-carry rules apply only to the main channels of full-power stations. The rules do not require carriage of full-power station subchannels or to any LPTV channels.

Neal McLain

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Neal McLain
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Thanks. That's what I had assumed.

But my question is whether the digital format must be HD, specifically, as it could be SD to save bandwidth.

My understanding of the rule: If the cable company offers ANY analogue channels, then it must offer ALL local broadcast channels in analogue. I'll assume this applies only to channels that made the must-carry election, and that the rules for negotiated carriage are on a per contract basis. It's entirely possible that there are cable systems that dropped analogue channels altogether and are thus not subject to the rule requiring analogue translation of local broadcast stations.

Also, the analogue channels need not be available to subscribers with cable-ready analogue tuners in their tvs. The cable company could require subscribers to use a set-top box to make an analogue signal available. In my area, many local broadcast stations have been on the digital tier. Basic-only subscribers who wish to receive these in addition to the still-analogue stations require a special set-top box that I'll guess is capable of receiving clearQAM only.

If the main channel is offered on a must-carry basis, can the cable company elect to offer any other subchannel without retransmission consent?

Heh. From Day One, must carry rules were a burden on cable. Not that anyone asked me when I was a kid, but it wouldn't have been unreasonable to continue to expect viewers to have proper outdoor antennas to receive local stations, with cable providing supplemental television service. This statement wouldn't apply to CATV situations.

I didn't know that; thanks.

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