FCC: Comparative standard, not every content bit offers best approach for cable

The FCC last week published a September action declining to require cable operators to carry all HD broadcast bits.

The FCC last week published its Third Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making requiring cable systems to carry HD broadcast signals in HD format and prohibiting them from materially degrading those HDTV signals.

The Third Report and Order, which was adopted Sept. 11 but made public Nov. 30, reaffirms the approach the commission adopted in 2001 to determine whether such material has been degraded.

The 2001 requirements prohibited a cable operator from delivering a digital broadcast signal in a lesser format or lower resolution than that provided for any other signal on the cable system. It also required the cable operators to provide a broadcast HD signal that when compared to the over-the-air HDTV broadcast has differences that aren’t “really perceptible” to the home viewer.

Prior to issuing the report and order, the commission sought comment on a proposal to require cable operators to carry all broadcast bits. The commission, however, declined “to rely on measurement of bits to determine whether degradation has occurred,” and thus did not require cable operators to carry all content bits of a broadcast HD signal.

In declining to require all content bits to be carried, the commission concluded that doing so would have stifled innovation “and the very efficiency that digital technology offers.”

The comparative standard remains “the best way to encourage and reward technological innovations, like MPEG4 compression,” which allow more efficient use of bandwidth without harming the viewing experience, the commission said.

Establishing a requirement to carry every content bit also may have created a more exacting standard than necessary to ensure no material degradation. The commission noted that there has been a “paucity of material degradation complaints” since must-carry rules were enacted 15 years ago.

For more information, visit http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-07-170A1.doc.