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Summary:

The switch to digital cable isn’t just yielding a multibillion spectrum auction, it’s also prompting cable companies and broadcasters to join forces and fight against a government mandate. The government’s been worried about how cable subscribers would get their less-watched local broadcasts once the analog signals […]

The switch to digital cable isn’t just yielding a multibillion spectrum auction, it’s also prompting cable companies and broadcasters to join forces and fight against a government mandate.

The government’s been worried about how cable subscribers would get their less-watched local broadcasts once the analog signals go dark next February. Enter the dual-carriage rules, which were put forth by the Federal Communications Commission last fall.


The rules dictated that unless a cable carrier was really small, and paid the legal fees to get an exemption, operators needed to carry certain programming (such as public access channels and local niche programming) in both dual and analog versions until all subscribers had a digital set-top box or TV capable of converting digital signals.

Cable companies don’t mind doing this for popular local broadcast channels, but smaller ones will take up twice the space on a cable network under these rules. Obviously cable companies, which already face capacity constraints, would like to choose how they allocate their capacity, rather than have the government mandate it.

The major cable operators represented by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association grudgingly agreed to the rules, but the American Cable Association, which represents smaller cable firms, came out against it. On Monday, six programmers representing cable channels including C-SPAN, Discovery Communications, The Weather Channel and Scripps Networks sued to stop the rules from going forward, saying that if it did, cable operators might have to dump their channels to make room for the duplicative signals.

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By Stacey Higginbotham

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  1. I don’t understand why the FCC doesn’t allow the market to work. If there are sufficient subscribers to warrant continuing to carry an analog signal, then they will do it. If there aren’t, then the unprofitable few that don’t upgrade to digital receivers will be out of luck for a while. (Disclosure: The only television I own is an old analog set hooked up to an old DVD player. I receive no broadcast, cable or satellite television – so I really don’t care when or whether they move to an all-digital format)

  2. Stacey

    Cable companies can avoid all these problems with a moderate capital investment. “all subscribers had a digital set-top box or TV capable of converting digital signals” is a perfectly reasonable standard. Several cable operators are headed their rapidly. Besides free up space for channels, it provides plenty of room for DOCSIS 3.0 to yield Internet speeds of 50-100 megabits in both directions.

    Sounds like a great national goal to me.
    

    db

  3. If only it were that simple. As it turns out many consumers DO NOT want set top boxes. At some point the legacy needs to be cut loose (analog channels). It’s horribly inefficient (think rotary dial here folks). I’m not sure if people realize this, but making the bulk of customers have to pay more to cover the costs of people with analog TV’s that won’t go for digital boxes IS still paying for it. In other words, either they pay for their digital boxes or we all pay higher costs.

  4. Community Media: Selected Clippings – 02/07/08 « Clippings for PEG Access Television Friday, February 8, 2008

    [...] it did, cable operators might have to dump their channels to make room for the duplicative signals. http://gigaom.com/2008/02/07/cable-and-broadcasters-align-to-fight-fcc/ [...]

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