On September 26, the FCC released a short Declaratory Order clarifying certain issues relating to the mandatory carriage of DTV broadcast television stations on cable systems. The Order addresses the post-DTV transition effect of television stations’ must carry elections (which are due on or before October 1, 2008), the post-DTV transition channel placement rights and obligations and low power television carriage rights.
Specifically, the FCC clarified that the carriage elections for the 2009-2011 carriage election cycle will control both before and after the DTV transition. That is, the must carry election of a station currently broadcasting in analog will apply as a must carry election for the station’s primary DTV signal after the station ceases broadcasting in analog. Stations that intend to terminate analog broadcasts before the February 17, 2009, statutory deadline will need to notify their local cable operators 30 days before terminating their analog signal.
In addition, the FCC clarified that stations’ channel placement rights in the post-DTV transition world will be substantially similar to the current situation. Currently, commercial analog must carry stations are entitled to be carried: (1) on the channel number on which the station broadcasts over-the-air; or (2) on the channel on which it was carried on July 1, 1985; or (3) on the channel on which it was carried on January 1, 1992; or (4) on any alternative channel by mutual agreement. Noncommercial analog must carry stations cannot elect their 1992 channel position but otherwise have the same options.
In the new Order, the FCC clarified that, although the over-the-air channel on which a station broadcasts may no longer be relevant, DTV must carry stations are entitled to carriage on the “major channel number” identified in the station’s DTV “program and system information protocol” (PSIP). The Order also noted that the “historic” channel positions and negotiated channel positions remain as additional options.
With respect to low power television stations, the Order clarified that qualified DTV-only low-power stations should be accorded the carriage rights they could have demanded for their analog signal. This carriage would be on the same terms as full-power DTV-only stations, meaning that the station can elect to be carried in digital or pay to have its signal downconverted to analog. In addition, the Order provides that the “good quality signal” standards for DTV-only low power television stations shall be the same as the the “good quality signal” standards for DTV-only full power television stations (i.e., -61 dBm at the cable system headend).