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CBA argues for must-carry expansion

The Community Broadcasters Association (CBA) told the FCC in reply comments on Aug. 29 that to promote localism and advance the public interest FCC rules should be modified to extend cable must-carry status to qualifying Class A television stations.

The CBA’s reply comments were filed as part of a proceeding to determine whether the FCC has the authority to allow Class A stations to migrate to full-power and thus achieve the status necessary for cable must-carry rules coverage.

The CBA’s reply comments addressed a variety of points raised by various filers representing the interests of the cable industry, including:

  • existing Class A carriage where programming provides value;
  • the presence of sufficient local coverage from full-power stations;
  • a lack of evidence that the economic health of local broadcasters depends on cable carriage;
  • a highly competitive environment in the form of telco TV that makes this the wrong time to saddle the cable industry with new regulatory burdens;
  • straining already tight bandwidth limitations and impairing additional HD channel rollout; and
  • infringement on cable operators’ constitutional rights.

In arguing against the existing carriage of Class A stations where their programming provides value, the CBA pointed to contrary examples showing cable systems shutting the door on carriage of Class A stations or relegating them to a digital tier that does not reach all subscribers. Addressing the presence of local coverage by full power stations, the association argued these broadcasters focus their efforts on covering the core cities in major markets, whereas Class A stations focus on their home communities regardless of size.

In terms of the importance of cable carriage to the economic well being of broadcasters, the CBA recommended the commission ask any full-power station about how critical cable carriage is, adding that the difference between cable carriage and no carriage is “the difference between breathing fresh air and hobbling around trying to keep a noose from tightening around your neck.”

Regarding new regulation at a time of heightened competition, the CBA argued the cable industry still operates from a position of strength, providing television to 65 percent of the nation’s TV households, and does not warrant government intervention. Allowing Class A stations that earn full power status to receive must-carry protection will not create a new regulatory burden for cable operators, merely adjust an existing regulation, it said.

In terms of bandwidth limitations, the CBA said the number of Class A stations that would qualify for must-carry status will be small. Additionally, it argued, full-power stations already enjoy must-carry status, so to argue that a limited number of Class A stations shouldn’t receive the same protection is tantamount to attacking existing public policy. According to the association, the argument also rings hollow as “cable companies migrate to compressed all digital service” and add “new nonbroadcast channel services.”

Finally, the CBA rejected the contention that expanding must-carry protection to some Class A stations violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of cable operators. The association called these arguments “frontal attacks on Supreme Court law established in the Turner cases.”

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