Cablers Big and Small Seek Carriage Exemption

The American Cable Association has told the FCC that smaller cable systems should be exempt from the FCC order that they carry local stations in digital and analog formats (if they have analog viewers), plus in high-definition (where available).

Waivers for small systems aren’t just being sought by small companies. Charter Communications told the FCC that some 8 percent of its subscribers get video through small systems—with fewer than 5,000 customers and capacity of less than MHz—and they should be granted a waiver from the carriage requirements.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association agreed in an FCC filing that dual-carriage requirements for smaller systems would cause significant financial harm.

They all say for some small systems—Charter’s all-analog operation in tiny Tangier Island, Va., in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, has only 33 subs—the costs for downconversion, grooming and modulation will be much higher than the FCC anticipated in its order, and have much greater per-viewer costs than at bigger systems.

Carrying just one DTV must-carry channel comes to $28,600 and up, ACA told the FCC. A K-Tech DVM-150 receiver runs $3,000 (with one needed for each must-carry station); a Terayon groomer handles one or two stations in its $20,000 offering, with handling of third and fourth stations costing $4,000 more apiece; and a Motorola SEM V8 QAM Modulator for one station costs $5,600 (with up to seven more stations costing $800 apiece).

“Charter is greatly troubled by its ability to maintain these small, struggling cable systems and simultaneously comply with the commission’s new must carry obligations,” the company wrote.

The Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, an operation created by President Bush in 2002, has weighed in as well, arguing that the FCC failed to consider the financial impact of its regulations on small cable companies.