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FCC establishes rules for satellite carriage of local SD, HD stations

The FCC took steps March 19 to extend the nation’s transition to digital and high-definition television to satellite carrier by requiring them to carry digital-only stations upon request where they provide local-into-local service as well as setting up a four-year phase-in period for carriage of HD stations.

In its Second Report and Order, Memorandum Opinion and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which was made public March 27, the commission sought to balance a desire to promote carriage of local HD stations with the practical limitations of preparing satellites for launch as well as the ground-based infrastructure to support them.

While the order requires satellite operators to carry all HD signals in a market where they carry one local HD channel, it establishes a four-year phase-in for the requirement beginning in 2009 based on filings by both DIRECTV and DISH TV. Specifically, the commission’s actions require a satellite carrier to provide carriage of HD broadcast stations:

  • in at least 15 percent of the markets where they carry any station in HD by Feb. 17, 2010;
  • in at least 30 percent of its HD markets no later than Feb. 17, 2011;
  • in a minimum of 60 percent by Feb. 17, 2012; and
  • in one hundred percent no later than Feb. 17, 2013.

The commission action also required broadcasters to deliver their digital TV signals to a satellite carrier’s local receive facility with signal levels of -61dBm. This is same level broadcasters must meet in delivering a good quality signal to cable facilities for distribution.

The commission also addressed a petition from WHDT-DT, in Stuart, FL, seeking carriage of its HD signal by EchoStar. While the Media Bureau previously declined to act on the matter, the commission ordered EchoStar to carry the station under the new rules.

The FCC also asked for comment on several issues in its notice of proposed rulemaking, including:

  • whether satellite carriers should be required to carry both SD and HD signals of broadcasters in local markets;
  • whether a satellite carrier carrying the SD and HD channels of one broadcast signal should be required to have a single reception antenna and associated equipment for each broadcaster in the market; and
  • whether satellite carriers have an obligation to provide all subscribers in a local-into-local market with the ability to view all stations carried under the carry-one, carry-all requirement.

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