The FCC’s vote is a setback for broadcasters who were asking for a three-year extension of the rule that requires cable systems to offer analog versions of must-carry channels. Once the rule is gone, viewers with analog TV sets will need a set-top box to continue to receive them.
The FCC voted unanimously late last night to sunset the commission’s viewability rule in six months that requires hybrid, analog-digital cable systems to offer viewers TV broadcast signals in an analog format so that viewers with old analog sets can continue to receive them.
The vote is a setback for broadcasters who were asking for a three-year extension of the rule and hoping that Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn would lead the charge for it.
At worst, broadcasters were hoping for a year or 18-month extension of the rule.
In the end, however, the commission voted 5-0 to phase out the rule in six months.
Under the decision, cable operators with hybrid systems will be required to carry must-carry stations in analog format only until Dec. 12.
The agency is relying on cable operators to deploy “small, affordable set-top boxes’’ to those subscribers that still have analog TV sets.
The agency adopted the viewability rule in 2007 to ensure that the estimated 12.6 million cable subscribers with analog TV sets would continue to have access to all must-carry signals.
Clyburn issued a statement expressing her reservations with the decision: “The decision to allow the viewability rule to expire was not an easy one for me,’’ she wrote. “It is of the utmost importance that stations are able to reach any and all cable viewers, regardless of whom or where they are. Cable providers have committed to this office that they will make the transition as painless as possible and that if needed, set-top boxes will be widely available, at an extremely low (if any) cost, easy to get, and easy to install. I will hold them to that commitment.”
Clyburn also noted that she was able to get some language inserted that provides for “a remedy to resume analog carriage of channels should consumer outcry and confusion rise to a noticeable level.’’
Clyburn’s statement did nothing to placate the National Black Church Initiative, which had joined broadcasters in calling for an extension.
“I believe that this is a clear sign that the FCC has declared war on religious broadcasting,” said Anthony Evans, president of the group. The agency has failed to “look out for minority and small broadcasters.There’s a possibly we may sue over this decision.’’
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton stopped just short of theatening a suit. “NAB remains concerned that today’s FCC decision has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America. If that is the outcome, millions of viewers will be the losers.
“NAB will be reviewing our options with our board of directors.”
Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which lobbied the FCC for the sunset, commended the FCC for its action, saying that it would lead to “deployment of faster broadband and the expansion of new and exciting digital services.
“With the majority of all households now enjoying digital services, the cable industry will maximize its bandwidth to provide innovative services that connect consumers to things they care about most.
“And while some customers have yet to make the transition to digital, cable providers will continue to work hard to make that conversion as smooth as possible.”