Rehr Critical Of Cable Lawsuit

Washington – The head of the National Association of Broadcasters is accusing C-SPAN and other major programmers of trying to scuttle the digital television transition by going to court to overturn federal regulations helpful to some TV stations.

“The cable industry’s lawsuit risks harm not only to some local broadcasters, but also to millions of cable customers who may not understand why their favorite local station is not available after the end of analog broadcasting," NAB president David Rehr said in a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin. Rehr’s letter was dated Feb. 5, 2008 on one page and Feb. 8, 2008 on another.

Rehr added that “it was with great disappointment that I heard the news … that certain cable programmers are attempting to derail the digital television transition …”

C-SPAN, Discovery Communications, The Weather Channel, TV One, A&E Television Networks and Scripps Networks filed suit Monday to overturn FCC regulations adopted last September. The rules require nearly all cable systems to carry some local TV stations in both analog and digital formats, a duplicative burden never imposed before. Dual must carry applies for three years and just to TV stations that demand cable carriage.

In the letter, Rehr did not explain how cable’s lawsuit could derail the transition when the FCC’s rules kick in on the first day after completion of the transition.

The cable networks that sued are worried that TV stations benefiting from the FCC’s regulatory largesse will be able to occupy channels that had not been set aside for duplicative broadcasting services.

But Rehr said dual carriage is necessary because “many small, foreign language and religious broadcast stations will go dark on some cable systems after the transition, disenfranchising millions of dedicated viewers …”

Rehr’s implication was that without the FCC’s rules, cable operators could drop local TV stations after the transition. In fact, absent a dual carriage requirement, cable operators would still need to carry must carry stations in digital after the transition. To see the channel, analog cable homes would need to spend a few dollars a month to lease a digital set-top box from the cable company – just like people today need to buy an analog TV set to see analog cable services.

Rehr’s letter described the potential harm in general terms, referring to “many” local TV stations as potential victims. Knowing the number of commercial TV stations that rely on must carry, however, is difficult because the NAB, the FCC, and the NCTA do not track the carriage elections of TV stations.

While accusing cable programmers of trying to derail the DTV transition after it has occurred, Rehr at the same time failed to mention that NAB has been successful in blocking the FCC from requiring TV stations to air educational public service announcements on the DTV transition during prime time peak audience hours. The PSAs would need to run before the DTV transition, according the FCC's proposal.