The Federal Communications Commission has denied the must-carry complaint of WGBP Opelika, Alabama (licensed to Columbus, Georgia), against DirecTV, but signaled the station can qualify for carriage next time around.
There are three-year cycles for must-carry elections, but a new station can file for must-carry without having to wait for a new cycle.
WGBP was already being carried in Columbus by DirecTV in September 2020 when Nielsen changed the station‘s designated market area (DMA) to Atlanta. The station then put in a transmitter in the Atlanta DMA and demanded immediate mandatory carriage by DirecTV in Atlanta, saying the new transmitter — part of a transition to a distributed transmission system (DTS) — made it a new station that could seek carriage even though it was not the beginning of a must-carry cycle.
DirecTV denied the request, saying the station was not new under FCC rules. WGBP already had some viewers in the Atlanta DMA, though the station argued it was so limited as not to count, and filed the complaint in April 2021.
The FCC concluded that WGBP, which carries NBCUniversal's LX and other multicast networks, was not a new station because it had been providing some over-the-air service in Atlanta — there is nothing in the rules about exceptions for “very little” service, and did not become a new station in the market by locating a DTS transmitter there.
“Accordingly, because the Station is not a new television station in the Atlanta market (and no other exception applies), it may not assert new carriage rights in that market in the middle of an election cycle,” the FCC said
But the silver lining is that the FCC said it agrees with the station that when the next cycle comes around, it can assert must-carry rights in both Columbus and Atlanta. ■
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