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New FCC rules assure local TV presence on analog cable tier after digital transition

The FCC Sept. 11 adopted rules to ensure that analog cable subscribers continue to receive broadcast TV stations following the completion of the digital television transition on Feb. 17, 2009.

Cable operators are required by law to make the primary video channel of local broadcasters viewable to all subscribers. The rules adopted this week allow cable operators to comply by either carrying broadcasters’ digital signal in analog format or carrying it only in digital so long as all subscribers have the equipment needed to view it on their sets. The requirement runs until February 2012 when the rule will be reviewed.

Small cable operators — those with an activated channel capacity of 552MHz or less — can request a waiver of the new rule.

The FCC action also reaffirmed the commission’s current material degradation standard and the requirement that cable systems must carry HD broadcast signals in HD format. Cable operators must carry broadcast signals so the picture quality is at least as good as the quality of any other programming carried on the system.

Reacting to the release of the new rules, both the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) expressed their support.

In a statement released with the new rules, Chairman Kevin Martin said the rules prevented millions of viewers who watch analog cable television from becoming disenfranchised following the DTV transition.

According to the chairman, without the rules, “some broadcast stations would have become unwatchable” on the 120 million analog TV sets in the 40 million homes nationwide that subscribe to analog cable TV service.

While the new rule allows the smallest of the nation’s cable operators to seek a waiver, at least one commissioner expressed a desire to see system upgrades. “We encourage cable operators to upgrade their systems and deploy solutions, such as switched digital, QAM or IPTV, to increase system capacity for more channels, enhanced services and faster broadband speeds,” said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

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