A group of basic cable networks is suing the FCC at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, saying that the Commission’s post-DTV-transition dual carriage rule threatens their place on the cable lineup and hence, their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The group includes Discovery, C-SPAN, TV One, A&E, The Weather Channel and Scripps Networks.
The FCC requires that cable operators maintain dual analog and digital carriage of broadcast television signals for three years after the conversion on 2/17/09, with a decision on whether or not to extend the rule taken up later. Cable operators agreed to the rule, but it has been under fire all along from smaller systems with limited channel capacity, many represented by the American Cable Association (ACA).
NAB EVP Dennis Wharton responded with a promise to see the FCC’s ruling upheld, saying, "Today’s lawsuit by a handful of self-serving pay TV programmers represents yet another attempt by cable interests to block a successful digital television transition. By reneging on the NCTA commitment to preserve cable carriage of local broadcast stations to all cable customers after February 2009, these programmers threaten to block consumer access to scores of foreign language and religious TV stations all over America. NAB salutes FCC Chairman Martin and his colleagues for adopting a rule preserving the viewability of diverse local broadcasting outlets, and we will aggressively fight the pay TV programmers’ attempt to dictate terms and conditions of the DTV transition."
TVBR/RBR observation: It will be interesting to see what Congress has to say about all this. Both houses will hold hearings on DTV progress next week. All we can say is that the time for tying up loose ends is now. We hope that the Court takes into account the ticking clock before it sets its schedule and/or allows attorneys on either side to indulge in delaying tactics.