UPDATED 12:30 P.M. ET

FCC To Kill Viewability Rule On Dec. 12

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.

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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.”


Comments (4)

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Clayton Mowry says:

June 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

Truly a TV unfriendly FCC, these guys have been sucking up to the cable and telco’s guys since day one.

Craig Davenport says:

June 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

Gee, I wonder what the monthly charge will be for a piece of plastic, that cost no more than $8.00 to manufacture in China, to bring those “down-converted” signals to the viewers’ eyes & ears? Will those same boxes be able to decypher CC 608 & 708, DAFTB, SAP and most importantly, stay functional until AFTER your favorite program is done airing? I believe Murphy and his cohorts are sitting in the wings…but never mind that gentleman behind that curtain over there…he’s only “pleasuring” his master as we watch another nail being driven into the coffin of Free-OTA television. How the hell did anyone NOT SEE THIS COMING when “Jenny” was first proposed as a pending member of the FCC way back when? The stories mentioned over and over again how this twink didn’t own a TV nor let his spawn even watch it!?!? What part of that sentence didn’t cause the hairs on the back of necks to stand up or pants to be wetted?!?! Now, during the end of the coming NFL season, the FCC is going to allow cable companies to drop analog MCs, then turn around a “charge” another fee to receive/demod the very stations they took away? I hope the Cable outlets have some good armor over their nads and protection at their gates…and the home addresses and phone numbers of each FCC Commissioner printed up and ready to hand out… This, AGAIN, is another sign of your Booberment working towards its own design…

Angie McClimon says:

June 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Cable has been trying to make a conversion to all digital infrastructure for years. True, this will help them do that but at the same time this also has the opportunity to hurt them severely. They’ll charge for the mini-boxes and that will go on top of the rent for DVR’s, PPV, general service. When people can’t pay the $250/mo for all that useless crap, the $74 outdoor antenna will look better.

Michael Castengera says:

June 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Now it will be interesting to see if they allow an extension for small cable systems to carry all must-carry in HD.


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