In this Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Second FNPRM”), we address issues concerning the carriage of digital broadcast television signals after the conclusion of the digital television (“DTV”) transition. Section 614(b)(4)(B) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Act”), directs the Commission to revise the mandatory signal carriage rules to reflect changes necessitated by the transition from analog to digital broadcasting.1 We believe that this Second FNPRM is warranted at this time in light of the recently established deadline for the end of analog broadcasts by full-power television licensees.2 Further, addressing these issues now will provide digital broadcasters and cable operators with adequate time to prepare to comply with any rules that we adopt.
In this Second FNPRM, we seek comment on the post-transition obligations of cable operators under Sections 614 (establishing mandatory carriage rights for local commercial television stations) and 615 (establishing mandatory carriage rights for noncommercial educational television stations) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Act”).3
First, we remind industry of our 2001 decision regarding material degradation:4 A broadcast signal delivered in HDTV [high-definition television] to a cable system must be carried by that system in HDTV.5In addition, we seek comment on exactly what constitutes material degradation.
Furthermore, we address the statutory requirement that cable operators must make the signal transmitted by a broadcaster electing mandatory carriage viewable by all of their subscribers,6 and seek comment on how cable operators can implement this requirement after the end of analog broadcasting on February 17, 2009. Specifically, we propose that cable operators must comply with this “viewability” provision and ensure that cable subscribers with analog television sets are able to continue to view all must-carry stations after the end of the DTV transition by either: (1) carrying the digital signal in analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. In the absence of such a requirement, analog cable subscribers (currently about 50% of all cable subscribers, or approximately 32 million house holds7) would no longer be able to view commercial must-carry stations or non-commercial stations after February 17, 2009. We believe such an outcome would adversely impact the DTV transition and would unduly burden millions of consumers.
In interpreting both of these statutory provisions, we are mindful of the need to minimize the burden imposed upon consumers by the end of analog broadcasting in order to facilitate the successful and timely conclusion of the DTV transition. The prohibition against material degradation ensures that cable subscribers who invest in a HDTV are not denied the ability to view broadcast signals transmitted in this improved format. The requirement that cable operators make must-carry stations viewable by all cable subscribers ensures that analog cable subscribers, who today are able to view all of their broadcast stations, do not lose access to those stations as a result of the switch to digital-only broadcasting.