At last night’s open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) addressed a number of issues of importance to television broadcasters and cable operators. Below is a summary of key developments.

FCC Solicits Public Comment on Issues Related to Cable Carriage of Digital Signals

The FCC announced that it is seeking public comment on a number of issues related to cable carriage of digital signals. To ensure that all cable subscribers (including those with analog television sets) have the ability to view all must-carry local broadcasting stations, the FCC has proposed that cable operators must either: (1) carry the signals of all must-carry stations in an analog format to all analog cable subscribers or (2) for all-digital systems, carry those signals only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. The FCC also asked for comment on whether the Commission should move from a subjective to an objective measure of what constitutes material degradation. For example, the FCC proposed requiring cable operators to carry all "content bits" transmitted by broadcasters. The FCC is also seeking comment on whether the Commission's existing nondiscrimination requirement—prohibiting cable operators from treating cable programming services more favorably than broadcast signals for purposes of degradation—is a better objective test for material degradation.

FCC Announces Commencement of Third Periodic Review of the DTV Transition

The FCC announced that it has begun its third periodic review of the DTV transition. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) adopted yesterday proposes deadlines and procedures to ensure that broadcasters complete construction of their post-transition facilities on a timely basis. Specifically, in the NPRM, the FCC proposes the following actions: (1) restricting the grant of future extensions of time to construct digital facilities; (2) offering expedited processing to stations applying for a construction permit for their post-transition channel based on the new DTV Table of Allotments; (3) examining the circumstances in which stations may reduce or terminate analog service to facilitate construction of post-transition facilities; (4) permitting stations that have different pre-transition and post-transition channels to devote their resources to building their post-transition channel; (5) requiring stations by December 1, 2007 to file a form with the FCC detailing the current status of the station's digital transition, the additional steps the station must take before the transition deadline, and a plan for how the station intends to meet the deadline; and (6) establishing February 17, 2009 as the construction deadline for stations with new channel allotments in the upcoming new DTV Table of Allotments. The NPRM also seeks comment on other steps the FCC can take to facilitate the timely construction by stations of their post-transition facilities.

FCC Adopts Report on Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children

Pursuant to a request from Congress, the FCC released a report yesterday on the issue of “excessively violent television programming” and its impact on children. The report states that the FCC has found that research indicates exposure to violence in the media can increase aggressive behavior in children and therefore the FCC recommends that action should be taken to address violent programming. In the report, the FCC expresses skepticism that viewer-initiated blocking and mandatory ratings fully serve the government’s interests in “promoting parental supervision and protecting the well-being of minors” and states that it believes that the V-chip is of limited effectiveness. The FCC encourages Congress to develop an appropriate definition of “excessively violent programming” that could be regulated by the FCC. In addition, the FCC recommends that the industry should self-initiate certain remedies (e.g., broadcasters adopting a family hour at the beginning of prime time, multi-channel video programming providers offering customers the ability to select channels a la carte). The full report is available on the FCC’s website.

FCC Requires Retailers to Post Consumer Alerts on Analog TV Equipment

The FCC adopted an order requiring retailers to fully inform consumers when television equipment being sold has only and analog tuner. While the FCC’s DTV tuner rule prohibits the manufacture, import, or interstate shipment of any device containing an analog tuner unless it also contains a digital tuner, it has been brought to the FCC’s attention that retailers are continuing to sell analog-only devices from existing inventory. Out of concern that consumers may not be aware that this equipment will not be able to receive over-the-air-television signals after the analog cut-off date (currently scheduled for February 17, 2009), the new order requires retailers to post the following “consumer alert” if they are selling TV equipment with only an analog broadcast tuner:

This television receiver has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products. For more information, call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-225-5322 (TTY: 1-888-835-5322) or visit the Commission’s digital television website at: www.dtv.gov .