Broadcasters seek modified DTV must-carry rights

The new proposal would allow a station to elect must-carry for either its analog or digital channel and to elect retransmission consent for the other channel during the transition.
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A new DTV must-carry proposal was recently presented to the FCC by the National Association of Broadcasters and Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV). The new proposal would allow a station to elect must-carry for either its analog or digital channel and to elect retransmission consent for the other channel during the transition. Or, a station could elect to retransmission consent for both channels. The cable industry opposes the new proposal.

The new proposal also would require cable systems to install technology by Jan. 1, 2006 that would pass through the digital channel to digital television sets and downconvert the digital channel for reception on analog television sets at no additional charge on the analog basic-cable tier. If a cable system failed to do so, stations could elect must-carry for both their analog and digital channels during the transition. Upon delivering the digital channel to both digital and analog sets, a cable system could cease carriage of the analog channel. Cable operators reportedly see this portion of the plan as a back-door attempt to obtain dual must-carry.

Broadcasters argue that the new proposal alleviates cable's First Amendment concerns about required carriage of two channels from a single station. They further state that the proposal would protect smaller stations, which might be less likely to select digital carriage during the transition, and their viewers. Broadcasters also argue that the proposal would provide an incentive for cable operators to upgrade their systems. If stations elect must-carry for their digital channels, cable operators argue that cable systems would be forced to also carry their analog channels because most subscribers rely on analog cable service. Broadcasters responded that cable systems would be free to choose between carrying both channels or upgrading their technical facilities to reach all subscribers. They argue that this would be a business decision without First Amendment concerns.

The FCC is expected to issue a rule-making decision in early 2004 that permanently rejects dual carriage of analog and digital channels after the DTV transition. The current effort to obtain carriage rights during the transition is seen as an effort to salvage at least something from the DTV must-carry proceeding.

How to navigate the FCC's electronic filing systems

The FCC has several electronic systems for filing applications and reports. The system used for TV is CDBS, which is located on the FCC's Web site, www.fcc.gov. All licensees must have an FCC registration number (FRN), which can be obtained electronically through the commission registration system (CORES). Here are a few tips for navigating the FCC's filing systems:

CORES: Determine if you already have an FRN. If you paid regulatory fees this year, or have filed any applications or paid any fees since December 2001, you should have at least one FRN. In the CORES system, click on the search button and select advanced search. Type your TIN into the box marked “TIN” and search. If your TIN has been used to register an FRN, it will show up with this search. You also may call the FCC's CORES help desk (877-480-3201, Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET).

If you have your FRN but do not have a password, you need to call the help desk to get a new password.

CDBS: You need a CDBS account number and password, and an FRN and its password to file on CDBS. If you plan to pay electronically, or if you would like the computer to generate your 159 forms, you need the employer identification or social security number of the paying party. If you lose your account number or password, you may open a new account.

Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.

Dateline

Television stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements on April 1, 2004, in preparation for renewal application filing on June 1, 2004. Other television stations' renewal application filing dates in 2004 are:

August 1
North Carolina, South Carolina

October 1
Florida, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

December 1
Alabama, Georgia

Also on April 1, stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas must place their annual EEO reports in their public files.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com