Cable Industry Cheers FCC Vote to End 'Viewability Rule'

7:32 AM PST 06/12/2012 by Georg Szalai
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Cable TV operators only have to ensure analog TV subs get access to must-carry broadcast TV signals without payment for a digital converter for another six months.

The FCC has unanimously voted to extend its so-called "viewability rule," which ensures analog cable TV subscribers access to must-carry broadcast TV signals without the need to pay for a digital converter, for only six months.

The brief extension and subsequent end of the rule earned cheers from a cable industry trade group.

"We find the viewability rule is no longer necessary to ensure must-carry signals are viewable to all subscribers and therefore will allow the rule to sunset," the FCC said in its order. "As an interim measure, we require hybrid systems to continue to carry the signals of must-carry stations in analog format to all analog cable subscribers for six months after expiration of the viewability rule, until December 12, 2012."
 
The rule now requires cable TV companies to ensure customers in about 12.6 million homes with analog TV sets access to local TV signals without a digital converter - or at least without one that they must pay for - until December 12. The rule would have expired this week without the FCC vote.

But FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has signaled that he wants the rule to eventually go away, something cable operators have been pushing for. They will be able to get revenue from offering the necessary converter.

On the other hand, small and foreign-language broadcasters have expressed concern that without the requirement, they could lose part of their audience.

"We commend chairman Genachowski and other commissioners for the adoption of a forward-looking, pro-consumer order that will promote the deployment of faster broadband and the expansion of new and exciting digital services," said Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who is now president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "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."

He added that "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."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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