FCC takes its show on the road


The October open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission will be held in Nashville next week. Out of seven agenda items, only one directly impacts broadcasters. But it should be interesting, because it sends supporters of Class A television straight into a head-on collision with the CATV industry. You can’t tell much from the dry-as-a-bone title of the agenda plank refers to an amendment to “Establish Rules for Digital Low Power Television, Television Translator, and Television Booster Stations and to Amend Rules for Digital Class A Television Stations.” The gist of the meeting, we know, will be a proposal from Chairman Kevin Martin to grant cable must-carry status to Class A television stations.

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, 10/15/08 at 9:30 AM. Other agenda items refer to homeland security, wireless and international issues.

The plan to upgrade the carriage status of Class As is widely seen as a way to increase diversity of programming available from broadcast facilities. A large number of Class A television stations provide Spanish-language and other niche programming. Martin’s proposal has received widespread support from advocates of ownership diversity. It has also been condemned by the cable industry.

RBR/TVBR observation: Cable has a lot of things in mind for its expanded digital capacity. Taking orders from the FCC, and giving a leg up to broadcasters of any kind are not among them. If Martin is backing the proposal, we expect he will have no trouble whatsoever getting the votes of Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. We’ll have to see how Republicans Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell view the concept, and then we’ll have to see how much pushback there will be from the cable industry if the FCC does grant must-carry status. We will not be at all surprised to see yet another visit to the circuit court system before this proposal becomes a reality.