Skip to main content

Low-Power Must Carry Pulled From FCC Agenda

Turns out low-power broadcasters were right to be concerned about a planned vote Wednesday on a proposal to require the cable industry to carry hundreds of class A low-power stations, just as they must carry full power TV stations.

As first reported in B&C sister pub Multichannel News, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has pulled a vote on the item from the meeting agenda in Nashville after failing to get sufficient support from the other commissioners for a proposed rulemaking.

In a meeting with reporters Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell had been unsure of the status of the item, or even of the monthly meeting itself, which is in Nashville because the commissioners, with the exception of Commissioner Michael Copps who has an obligation elsewhere, are attending a pediatric obesity forum at Vanderbilt University there.

Low-power station representatives concerned about the item’s fate had held a press conference last week to push for the rule change, which Martin has argued would foster a diversity of voices and aid in the DTV transition.

Cable operators, by contrast, argue it was unnecessary and a violation of speech and property rights.

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was not available at press time, but FCC sources confirmed the item was off the table. One source said the item was pulled because the chairman wanted to propose rules establishing a path to full-power status and must-carry rights for the 550 or so low power stations, while other commissioners wanted instead to open the issue up for inquiry, and confine the rule portion to setting a hard date for low-power stations to convert to digital. A 2012 date had been proposed.

Representatives of low-power stations had said last week they would not oppose a hard date—they did not commit to 2012--but only in concert with getting carriage rights on cable.

The obesity forum will essentially serve as the monthly meeting.

The American Cable Association praised the FCC's move to scrub the low-power item, but took the opportunity to stump for unbundling cable programming as another way of finding space on cable systems for low powers.

"Preventing full power broadcasters and programmers from coercing cable and satellite providers into paying for unwanted programming bundled with wanted channels would free up system capacity and cash better spent on carrying independent networks, including Class A stations," said ACA President Matt Polka in a statement. "Given the FCC’s commitment to promoting diversity on television, we are hopeful that the Commission will adopt these changes this year.”