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FCC grants three-year HD carriage exemption for some small cable systems

The FCC adopted an order Sept. 4 granting certain small cable systems a three-year exemption from commission rules requiring cable operators to carry HD broadcast signals without material degradation.

The exemption covers those cable systems that have 2500 or fewer subscribers and aren’t affiliated with a large operator as well as those that have an active capacity of 552MHz or less. The three-year exemption begins with the February 2009 DTV transition.

Regardless of the exemption, cable operators continue to be responsible for fulfilling their must-carry obligations, according to the FCC order. Cable operators are obliged to make all must-carry stations viewable to every subscriber.

Comments filed prior to the order by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the American Cable Association (ACA) and several cable operators said that without the exemption, small operators would have to “absorb or impose significant and unsustainable price increases, or in some instances to shut down altogether.”

In its comments, the ACA also proposed that the commission require broadcasters to pay for downconverters, so cable operators can continue to carry their signal on their analog tier following the DTV transition. The commission declined to adopt the proposal.