Small Cable Operators Diss FCC’s Carriage Decision

Some small cable operators will have to shut down if they are required to deliver must-carry TV-station signals in analog and digital.

That's according to American Cable Association president Matt Polka. He was responding to the FCC's decision Tuesday night to mandate that carriage. The commission said it would entertain waivers of the carriage requirement from smaller cable operators, but Polka said that even then, "This offers little meaningful relief, requiring these systems to engage in, and pay for, yet another process at the FCC, with the outcome far from certain."

Several FCC commissioners expressed their concern over the effects of the decision on smaller cable operators. Jonathan Adelstein, for example, who dissented in part from the decision, said: "I must dissent in part because the order does not provide small, often rural cable operators a much-needed exemption from the carriage obligations in this order. Unlike the major MSOs and LECs [local-exchange carriers], small system operators face serious financial and technological resource constraints, and the commission should consider these limitations moving forward.”

Adelstein continued, “We cannot achieve our goal of promoting rural broadband if the commission forces small rural cable operators to use their limited capacity for uses other than what the market and their customers demand, including broadband. While I am pleased that the order provides for waivers, it is not fair to ask these tiny rural systems to engage lawyers in Washington when a simple exemption would have sufficed."

Polka also talked of smaller operators’ role in providing rural broadband service, a key policy goal of the FCC. "For the foreseeable future, cable operators serving smaller and rural markets are the only companies that can provide affordable access to broadband products and services," he said. "For this reason, it’s disappointing that a majority of commissioners would vote to impose new burdensome obligations on these operators."

John Eggerton

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.