Skip to main content

NCTA On Spectrum: FCC Needs To Hold Cable Harmless, Too

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has told the FCC that it is OK with TV stations being repacked or sharing channels, so long as that does not mean cable must-carry obligations are increased in the process.

That came in comments on the FCC's spectrum reclamation proposals, which include allowing channels to share spectrum and moving them closer together to free up contiguous blocks for broadband.

NCTA says that must-carry is already an intrusion on the First Amendment that hurts customers, but is not fighting that fight in this proceeding. "So long as the Commission remains mindful of the constitutional, statutory and policy limitations of must carry rules, NCTA's interests in this proceeding will be adequately addressed," the association said, the "adequate" making the point that it was no concession on the basic point.

But what would be far from adequate, NCTA made clear, was any extension of must-carry as part of a spectrum reclamation process. "NCTA does not oppose the channel-sharing proposal so long as it does not result directly or indirectly in the expansion of cable operators' ‘must carry' obligations" to high-powered or low-powered stations, said NCTA.

"[H]olding cable operators harmless means, at a minimum, that the Commission must make absolutely clear in any rules that it may adopt that, as proposed in the Notice, any channel sharing will be limited 'to television stations with existing applications, construction permits or licenses as of the date of the adoption of this Notice.' Moreover, in no event should any licensee's carriage rights be any greater than they are today. Finally, holding cable operators harmless also means ensuring that cable operators are compensated for any costs that they incur due to the implementation of channel-sharing."

NCTA says that means no mandate to carry SD signals in HD, which is one way the FCC could sweeten the deal for broadcasters  who volunteer to reduce their over-the-air spectrum holdings, and thus potentially the capacity to deliver those HD signals. Also off limits would be extending must-carry beyond the primary stream to multicast signals, and definitely not somehow creating a must-carry right for stations that give up their over-the-air allocation altogether.

NCTA also says that if cable operators are required to buy new antennas to accommodate channel moves, they should be paid out of whatever mechanism is used to compensate broadcasters for their move.

"If operators are again required to purchase new equipment (e.g., antennas) to accommodate the changing of channels by broadcasters [as was the case in the DTV transition], they should not again be forced to bear those costs while broadcasters who agree to move to a shared channel are paid to do so," said the association.