The FCC has sided with DirecTV in a carriage dispute brought by noncommercial KSCE-TV in El Paso TX. It all boils down to a failure to request mandatory carriage in a timely manner.
Channel 38 Christian Television, licensee of the station, was supposed to have alerted DirecTV of its intention to claim its right to carriage by certified letter for the current three-year cycle by 10/1/08. Although it said it discussed the matter with DirecTV the previous month, nothing ever made it into writing.
Channel 38 claimed that DirecTV’s efforts to alert stations to the need to re-establish carriage rights were inadequate, but the FCC disagreed. The company posted the deadline with 120 days warning on its website. Although the FCC didn’t say it in so many words, it appears that it expected the complainant to be aware of its own obligation.
Part of the reason for the notification procedure is that it is an alternative to negotiated carriage rights, in which a television station requires payment from the satcaster for the right to carry its station. Channel 38 said that since all a noncommercial station can do is press for its mandatory carriage, in their case there should be no need to go to the trouble of a renewal process. The FCC didn’t say whether it thought this too be a good idea or not, but did note that the idea was outside the parameters of the current issue and would require a full rulemaking procedure.
RBR/TVBR observation: Kind of a stiff price to pay for what amounts to a clerical error, but other stiff penalties often arise due to similar omissions. It again underscores the need for licensees to know the rules and abide by them. We expect that this situation isn’t a total horror story for KSCE, however – at least it didn’t blow its cable carriage rights.