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Group Lobbying Congress To Step Into FCC Viewability Decision

the wake of the FCC's proposal to sunset the viewability rule effective nextDecember,
a coalition of over 200 TV stations has sprung up to lobby against that change.

According to a release issued by the
lobbying/public affairs firm Podesta Group, Voices for Local TV has been formed
to try and generate congressional pressure on the FCC to reverse course and
extend the rule another three years.

A Podesta spokesperson said the National Association of Broadcasters is not a member of the newly formed coalition, but a number of  broadcasters are, including Ion and Young Broadcasting, in a list supplied by Podesta that represents over 200 TV stations.

In a letter to the Hill, the coalition said that the sunset would have a "devastating" effect on them, "resulting in the loss of access to our local stations for 12.6 million cable households and 34 million viewers."

The FCC decided in September 2007 that in
order to ensure that all must-carry TV stations were viewable by all
subscribers after the switch to all-digital broadcasting, cable operators, for
a period of three years from the DTV switch date, would be required--in
addition to carrying digital signals--to convert digital signals to analog,
either at the headend or with converter boxes, so the digital signals were
still viewable by their analog cable customers.

The commission has now proposed to sunset that
requirement, saying that it is now met by the combination of free and low-cost
boxes available.

Since nonmust-carry stations have already negotiated carriage as part of their deals, stations affected are smaller stations and independents that have to invoke must carry status to insure coverage. They say that status would be threatened by asking viewers pay to extra to preserve a few such stations in each market. "It is wholly impractical to require cable customers to add set-top boxes solely for the purpose of viewing a few must-carry stations," they argue.

Voices for Local TV will have to talk fast.
The proposed order being circulated by the chairman this week needs to be voted
by June 12 or the rule sunsets immediately, as would a small cable operator
waiver of associated HD carriage mandates that the FCC does support extending
for another three years.

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.