Fierce opposition to FCC Chairman Genachowski’s plan to sunset cable carriage of analog signals is being led by independent stations, especially those with religious and foreign-language formats. Key to their efforts is convincing Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to oppose the plan.
Broadcasters are hoping that FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will set an independent course and save the FCC’s viewability rule that requires hybrid, analog-digital cable systems to transmit TV broadcast signals on the analog tier so that subscribers with old analog sets can continue to receive them without having to buy a set-top box.
To do so, Clyburn will have to go against FCC Chairman and fellow Democrat Julius Genachowski, who has circulated a proposal phasing out the rule in six months.
If she does, broadcasters and their Washington reps believes that the two Republican commissioners — Robert McDowell and Ajit Pai — may go along with her, supplying the other two votes needed for an extension.
With the rule set to expire tomorrow, a vote could come later today.
There is plenty of room for compromise. Although broadcasters are asking for a three-year extension of the rule, the FCC could opt for a year or 18 months as some parties have suggested.
Broadcasters are focusing their lobbying efforts on Clyburn because she has been a vocal proponent of diversity in programming and ownership.
Broadcasters’ principal argument is that allowing the rule to sunset will severely harm those stations that bring diversity in the form of foreign-language and religious programming.
Cable operators, they say, will be able to switch such stations to digital tiers where they would be inaccessible to subs who stick with their analog sets or difficult to find for subs who opt for a digital set-top box.
The FCC adopted the must-carry corollary in 2007 during the DTV transition to ensure that the estimated 12.6 million cable subscribers with analog TV sets would continue to have access to all must-carry signals. Cable operators went along with the rule since it was bound up in the national effort to convert broadcasting to digital, but they now favor Genachowski and an early sunset to the rule.
Last Friday afternoon, Clyburn Chief of Staff Dave Grimaldi held a conference call with representatives of several of the groups that have been pleading with to take a stand on their behalf. One of the reps on the call said he came away feeling that they had made headway, but received no commitment.
The call culminated a week of intense lobbying by broadcasters, much of it concentrated on Clyburn.
The National Black Church Initiative represents 34,000 churches, of which 15% of its members conduct some sort of broadcast ministries.
NBCI President Anthony Evans says the organization has made a “special plea’’ to Commissioner Clyburn, who is African American.
“She is getting an earful from various sources, especially those out of South Carolina where she originally presides from. We’ve been using our clout with her daddy, Representative [Jim] Clyburn [D-S.C.], to make sure he understands how we feel about this issue as well.’’
And the group has talked to the White House, he said. “Here’s an opportunity for the administration to show that they are going to work with African American churches on a very important issue to us. They don’t want to fail us.”
“We are prepared to go to the mat on this issue. This is a critical issue to us. It is our right to broadcast our message to the American public and it is our right to those airwaves,” Evans added.