ACA: HD Must-Carry Exemption Should Stay

Continued extension of the small cable operator exception to the rule requiring carriage of high-def much-carry channels is needed more now than when it was adopted in 2008, the trade group says.

The American Cable Association is calling on the FCC to retain an exemption that lets eligible small cable operators distribute in analog format must-carry TV signals received at their headend facilities in high definition.

“The record makes plain that in order to avoid harm to small cable systems and consumers, the FCC must extend the HD carriage exemption, and it also demonstrates that the FCC should permanently exempt analog-only systems from the HD must-carry mandate,” ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA set forth its views in reply comments filed with the FCC. Building on its previous filing, ACA said evidence in the record suggests that the total number of systems using the HD carriage exemption decreased since 2008, but the need for the exemption among small cable systems still relying on it has increased. ACA stressed that the evidence in the record, which includes an ACA member survey, supported the FCC’s tentative conclusion that extending the exemption would avoid imposing a significant economic burden on small cable systems and serve the public interest.

In 2008, the FCC adopted the HD exemption ahead of broadcasters’ 2009 transition to digital-only transmission mandated by Congress. Under the FCC exemption, cable systems with less than 553 MHz of capacity or cable systems with fewer than 2,501 subscribers (not including systems affiliated with large cable operators) would be allowed to provide HD signals of must carry TV stations in analog or digital standard definition. The HD exemption applies to TV stations that invoke their right to uncompensated cable carriage.

In the reply comments, ACA also urged rejection of a recommendation from the National Association of Broadcasters that the FCC should withhold the HD exemption from small systems transmitting one or more signals in HD. ACA said the NAB failed to show that small cable systems that currently utilize the HD carriage exemption but carry HD programming would not be significantly burdened by carrying the HD must-carry signals of broadcasters, or that they would be any less significantly burdened than systems that offer no HD programming.

ACA said that all consumers in these markets are better off where they have access to viable terrestrial alternatives to DBS providers and that the harm that all consumers face from the loss of this competition outweighs the benefits they and broadcasters realize by receiving must-carry stations in HD. Avoiding these potential harms — increased consumer rates, decreases in service offerings, the complete loss of cable service, and the reduction in competition  — warrants an extension of the HD carriage exemption, ACA said.


“The record in this proceeding clearly demonstrates the need for the FCC to continue the HD carriage exemption for small cable systems,” Polka said. “The need for the exemption among small cable systems that currently rely upon it, whether they are offering HD programming or not, has not only failed to diminish but has increased.”

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