There's a difference between being cable TV MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) system and a MATV (master antenna TV) system. For the TV Max business in Houston, Texas that difference could end up being $2.25 million.
The FCC issued a news release on Tuesday saying it “proposed a forfeiture of $2.25 million against a company that operates a cable system in Houston, Texas, for retransmitting the signals of six television broadcast stations without their consent.”
The news release said that the FCC's Media Bureau launched an investigation of TV Max, Inc. (which does business as “Wavevision” and other related entities) based on complaints from four major television broadcasters that alleged TV Max had retransmitted their stations' signals without consent.
One of the reasons that the proposed fine is so high is that TV Max continued carrying the stations after the Media Bureau issued them a warning.
TV Max argued that it didn't need retransmission consent because it was operating under the “MATV exception” in the FCC rules. (Under the exception, cable operators do not need broadcasters' consent to retransmit TV broadcast signals to building residents when the signals are received by master antenna (MATV) facilities.)
The FCC release explained that TV Max did not qualify for the exception, as the company proved broadcast signals received at its off-site cable headend, and therefore had to obtain consent for retransmission of the broadcast signals.
An interesting question that comes out of this is whether or not Aereo's assortment of micro-antennas could be considered a “headend,” and what impact that would have on its ability to avoid paying broadcasters retransmission fees.
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