TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Cable, HDTV and Must-Carry

Re: Cable, HDTV and Must-Carry

Neal McLain (
Thu, 25 Jan 2007 08:33:10 -0500

Rick Merrill <> wrote:

> The over air stations that cable TV carries as part of "Basic
> Service" also broadcast HDTV signals (unencrypted) that should
> according to the FCC regs be carried as part of "Basic Service"
> in-the-clear by Comcast. U agree or not?

> - RM


I assume that:

- By "HDTV" you mean either 1080i or 720p.

- By "in the clear" you mean that the CATV company delivers to each
subscriber an exact digital replica of the HTDV digital stream that
it receives from the station's transmitter.

- You are referring to the primary-channel DTV stream (not a
subchannel) of a "local commercial television station" (as defined
in 47 CFR 76.55(c)) which also transmits a simultaneous analog

Under these assumptions:

- Current FCC regulations applicable to mandatory carriage ("must-
carry") do not require a CATV to carry the HDTV stream, even
if said regulations require carriage of the analog signal.

- Carriage of the HDTV stream pursuant to a retransmission-
consent agreement between the station licensee and a CATV
is subject to the terms of the agreement, not FCC regulation.

Given the history of the FCC's experience with must-carry, I can
understand its reticence. Historically, every must-carry rule that
the FCC has promulgated on its own motion (without specific
Congressional authority) has been swatted down by the courts.

The FCC's current must-carry rules were authorized by Congress, but
even then, they just barely survived court challenge. The case went
all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld them in a fractured 5-4

> c.f.

That URL points to 76.55 ("Definitions applicable to the must-carry
rules"), not to the actual rules. The actual rules are at 76.56
("Signal carriage obligations").

> "Congress is monitoring the changes in the television
> and broadcast industry closely. In addition to watching
> the potential for debate surrounding FCC's must-carry
> rule, several representatives are hoping that broadcasters
> convert quickly, so they can auction off the spectrum now
> used for analog broadcasts. ..."

> -

Congress is indeed "monitoring" the situation, but they don't seem to
be doing much about signal carriage rules.

Effective February 17, 2009, all full-power broadcast stations must
cease analog broadcasts and convert to digital exclusively. Under
current law, CATV companies will then be required to carry only the
primary-channel digital stream, but they will not be required to carry

The FCC is considering imposing mandatory carriage for all subchannels
("multicasting"), but it hasn't taken formal action.

Neal McLain

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