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FCC OKs HD Waiver for Smaller Cable Ops

The Federal Communications Commission agreed to give smaller cable operators a waiver from its 2001 decision that required cable operators to pass along TV stations' HD signals in HD after the transition to digital.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said earlier this month that he was proposing granting a waiver of the commission's "material-degradation" prohibition for small cable systems, but only those not affiliated with larger cable operators.

The American Cable Association asked for a waiver for smaller systems, and Martin signaled his willingness to do so last April. He circulated an order among the other commissioners that would grant relief to systems serving 2,500 or fewer subscribers or with 552 megahertz or less capacity, but only ones not owned by a cable operator with more than 10% of subscribers nationwide.

The systems that did qualify for the waiver would get three-year exemptions from the requirement that after the Feb. 17, 2009, transition to digital, cable operators have to deliver HDTV signals to their customers if the station delivers the signals to them.

It was not clear whether that proposal had been modified. The item had been on the agenda for the FCC's meeting Friday, Aug. 22, but Martin said he hoped the commissioners might be able to vote those items beforehand. The FCC already held one public meeting this month, which meets the mandatory minimum for monthly meetings.

The FCC released a new agenda for the meeting, saying that the digital-carriage item was withdrawn because it had already been adopted.