June 13, 2012
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted late Monday to extend its "viewability rule" for just six months, allowing the requirement to expire in December.
The rule requires cable operators to provide both analog and digital feeds of certain must-carry local broadcast stations.
The vote was unanimous, although Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said her decision was not easy. She said it is of the "utmost importance" that viewers have access to local programming, but noted that consumers can buy low-cost converter boxes.
Michael Powell, CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, applauded the order, which he said will allow cable companies to devote more resources to deploying broadband Internet.
"With the majority of all households now enjoying digital services, the cable industry will maximize its bandwidth to provide innovative services that connect consumers to things they care about most," Powell said. "And while some customers have yet to make the transition to digital, cable providers will continue to work hard to make that conversion as smooth as possible."
Matthew Polka, CEO of the American Cable Association, said cable companies will be able to use the additional capacity to "offer improved services, such as better broadband and more diverse programming options."
But the vote was a blow to broadcasters, especially small and minority-owned stations. They had urged the FCC to extend the rule for three years.
Dennis Wharton, vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, said his organization "remains concerned that today's FCC decision has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America."
He said NAB will review its options with its board of directors. - Brenden Sasso, The Hill
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