Broadcasters: Cablers Need to Justify Degradation of HD Signals

NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television told the FCC Monday that cable operators who figure they are exempt from HDTV carriage rules need to at least notify broadcasters and consumers that they’re degrading local HDTV signals.

The NAB/MSTV filing asks for a modification of the FCC’s Aug. 22 order that exempted small cable operators from the HD obligation. In that order, cable systems with less than 552 MHz capacity, and systems (other than those owned by Comcast or Time Warner Cable) with fewer than 2,500 subs were relieved of the duty of carrying local HD signals in HD.

But the broadcasters say there’s no system in place to certify that the systems fit those criteria, or to notify viewers or local broadcasters. In addition, if the cable systems degrade the HD signals to standard-definition, broadcasters will need to provide those systems with information on how to treat the widescreen content.

“There is no means by which anyone can monitor cable systems’ compliance with the material degradation rules,” the broadcasters wrote. “As a result, anything from good faith errors to intentionally deceptive behavior by cable systems will go unchecked. In the absence of any form of reporting, certification or notification, it is impossible for the Commission or anyone concerned about compliance to determine whether a particular system qualifies for the HD exemption or which systems are using it.”

Regarding the degraded signals, the broadcasters say that they and viewers, not cable operators, should be able to determine the format (i.e., aspect ratio) in which the downconverted programming is displayed. Without a system for advance notice (the broadcasters want 60 days), there is no way for broadcasters to give cable systems the information needed to ensure the cablers don’t mangle the aspect ratio.

The broadcasters recommend a notice rule modeled after the current channel deletion/repositioning notice rule, which requires 60 days’ notice for such changes.