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Stevens Leans On FCC’s Martin About Small Cable

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) wants to know what Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin intends to do about small cable companies that feel burdened by new FCC rules on the mandatory carriage of local TV stations.

Last September, the FCC ordered cable companies to carry some local TV stations in analog and digital, a three-year dual carriage mandate that takes effect in February 2009. Martin refused to grant blanket waivers for mom-and-pop cable companies, saying channel-capacity concerns had been exaggerated.

In a Dec. 19 letter, Steven told Martin that he had been reached by a cable company “with 300MHz of capacity, and is very worried about the impact of dual carriage” and is concerned that “there is not yet a clearly defined waiver process. Even the need to hire expensive D.C. attorneys to obtain a waiver can be a real concern for small operators.”

Stevens is the most senior Republican on the Commerce panel, which oversees the FCC day-to-day functions and confirms its members.

The letter was made available to Multichannel News Friday by the American Cable Association.

The FCC’s cable carriage ruled apply just to TV stations that elect mandatory carriage. Cable systems with no analog subscribers are exempt. But as so few cable systems would qualify, the exemption is meaningless and creates a de facto dual carriage requirement.

Martin insists that anyone who calls the FCC rule a dual carriage mandate is wrong. Dual carriage, Martin argues, is cable carriage of separate analog and digital signals beamed by one TV station.

Cable operators say being forced to transmit one signal twice is dual carriage.

Martin counters that no cable operator is being force to transmit the same signal two times because every cable system has the option of supplying each customer with a digital set-top for every analog TV in the home.