The Commission this week released an Order exempting certain small cable systems from the requirement that, after the February 2009 digital transition, for a three year period, cable systems carry both an analog version of a broadcast television station’s signal plus the station’s high definition signal.  This dual carriage requirement was imposed so that the

Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television.  While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.

First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either:  (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.  This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation. 

Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator.  In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Post-Digital Transition “Must-Carry” Rules, Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts, and Opens Inquiry Into “Tying” Agreements

We recently wrote about the FCC’s proceeding to assess the status of stations that are primarily home shopping in nature – to determine if such stations are serving the public interest and are entitled to must carry status on cable systems.  The FCC has just issued an Order extending the comment deadline in that proceeding. 

We wrote last month about the fact that the Copyright Office has initiated a major proceeding to reexamine the statutory licenses that allow cable systems and satellite distributors to retransmit the programming of local television stations.  A statutory license allows retransmission of television signals by these multichannel video providers without getting the consent of copyright owners of each and every program (and program elements contained in the programming, e.g. music) that a broadcast station may feature in its programming. As part of this proceeding, the Copyright Office promised to hold public hearings on these licenses. The Office has announced the schedule for these hearings, to be held from July 23  to July 26. Parties interested in participating in the hearings need to register their interest on or before June 15. The Copyright Office’s notice about the hearing, which contains instructions on the process for filing a request to testify, can be found here.

Written comments in this important proceeding are due July 2. The Copyright Office has also encouraged interested parties to file suggested questions to be posed to the participants in the hearing by July 2.  Reply comments in the case are due on September 13.  The Copyright Office has also encouraged parties to respond to the testimony presented at the hearing in their reply comments. 


Continue Reading Copyright Office to Hold Hearings on Video Statutory Licenses

As we have written, here and here, the FCC recently commenced a proceeding to determine if it should adopt rules to require analog cable systems to carry digital television stations after the digital television conversion is complete in 2009.  The proceeding is also to determine what a cable system must do to ensure that there is

The Copyright Office last week released a wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry, asking many questions about the statutory licenses that allow cable and satellite companies to retransmit broadcast television signals without getting the specific approval of all the copyright holders who provide programming to the television stations. The notice was released so that the Copyright Office can prepare a report to Congress, due June of 2008, in which it will present its views as to whether the various statutory licenses still perform a necessary function, and whether any reforms of the current licenses are necessary. To complete its report, the Notice asks many questions about how these licenses currently work, whether the licenses function efficiently, and whether they should be retained, modified or abolished in favor of marketplace negotiations. The Notice even asks whether the existing statutory licenses should be expanded to take into account the different ways video programming is now delivered to the consumer, including various Internet and mobile delivery systems. Thus, virtually anyone involved in the video programming world may want to be part of this proceeding. Comments are due July 2 and reply comments are due September 13.

The cable and satellite statutory licenses were adopted by Congress to allow these multi-channel video systems to retransmit broadcast  signals. Without these licenses, the individual owners of copyrighted material – including syndicated,  network, sports, and music programming — would have to be consulted to secure necessary copyright approval before the television signal could be retransmitted. As the multi-channel video providers would, in many cases, not even know who held all these rights, they instead pay a statutory license which is collected, pooled, and then distributed to the various rights holders in proportions agreed to by those copyright holders or, in the absence of agreement, set by the Copyright Royalty Board.


Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Inquiry to Reexamine Cable and Satellite Statutory Licenses – and Asks if Statutory Licenses are Appropriate for Internet Video

The FCC’s agenda for its meeting to be held on Wednesday, April 25, contains four separate items related to the digital television transition.  The issue receiving the most press coverage is the proposal advanced by Chairman Martin that would require the cable carriage of television signals in both analog and digital formats until all cable