FCC OKs First Multicast Must-Carry

The FCC has decided to grant broadcasters analog and digital multicast must-carry in Alaska and Hawaii.

Analog must-carry becomes effective Dec. 8 of this year, digital must-carry by June 8, 2007. The FCC did not grant dual must-carry, finding that the analog signal does not have to be carried once the digital must-carry deadline kicks in.

In the contiguous 48, DBS companies are not required to carry local broadcast stations, though if they choose to carry one, they must carry all. Alaska and Hawaii were considered special cases, with remote populations that may not have adequate access to either local TV stations or cable service.

The ruling came as part of the FCC's implementation of Congress' reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Reauthorization Act (SHVERA), essentially the rules of the road for satellite broadcasting.

Unfortunately for broadcasters seeking precedent, the FCC was careful to write the rules so that it was clear that the multicast-must carry decision was limited to this special case in thse two states (it ruled Guam and Puerto Rico shouldn't be included). "Congress took steps to confine the breadth and burden of the regulation by directing the multicast and HD carriage obligation to apply only in the states of Alaska and Hawaii," said the commission. 

The FCC has already ruled that it did not interpret digital must-carry to apply to cable carriage of all of a broadcasters' multicast signals, but instead to only a replication of its primary signal. The FCC's cable must-carry decision was based on its interpretation of Congress' use of the  phrase "primary video" to describe the digital broadcast signal that cable must carry.

The SHVERA language did not include that phrase, and beyond that, referred to carriage of “the signals originating as digital signals,” which it saw as clear direction to include multicast signals.

Broadcasters are hoping to get Congress to give similar direction in a new DTV transition bill teed up for September mark-up.

The FCC commissioners have said Congress is free to correct them if they have misinterpreted the limitations of "primary video."

Coincidentally or not, the co-chairmen of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC, are Senators Ted Stevens (Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), both of whom are concerned about their state's access to the full spectrum of the communications revolution.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.