FCC spokesperson Mary Diamond said in no uncertain terms that the FCC is merely following the law when enforcing a requirement that cable companies pass along viewable broadcast television signals, including side-by-side digital and analog signals, until the transition to DTV has been successfully completed. Diamond’s statement came after a group of basic cable programmers challenged the rule in court, saying it might force them off cable system channel cards and thus infringe upon their First Amendment rights.
"The 1992 Cable Act is very clear," said Diamond. "Cable operators must ensure that all local broadcast stations carried pursuant to this Act are ‘viewable’ by all cable subscribers. The Commission’s Order made sure that the over 40M cable subscribers with analog cable will continue to receive the same broadcast stations after the transition. Ultimately, the American consumer is, and continues to be, our highest priority as we make this conversion to digital television. All Americans with cable — regardless of whether they are analog or digital subscribers — should be able to watch the same broadcast stations the day after the digital transition that they were watching the day before the transition."
Meanwhile, NCTA President/CEO Kyle McSlarrow said his member cable system operators would honor the FCC’s three-year dual carriage provision even if the court throws it out, according to cable trade Multichannel News.
The American Cable Association, which represents smaller operators, has been critical of dual carriage due the fact that its constituents tend to have smaller capacity, forcing hard choices when it comes to offering program and broadband options to customers. The FCC has said it will deal with capacity-related waivers of the dual carriage obligation on a case-by-case basis.
TVBR/RBR observation: It seems to us that the First Amendment argument cuts two ways. If a cable system fails to get a broadcast signal to its subscribers, wouldn’t that be infringing on the broadcast station’s freedom of speech? The powers that be have long ago decided that the local service provided by broadcast outlets, which are for the most part beyond the capability of a basic cable service, warrant special protection to make sure that citizens have access to information particular to their region, particularly in times of emergency. It’s difficult to see the basic cable lawsuit going anywhere at all.