By a unanimous vote, the FCC adopted a Report and Order on Tuesday that permits the agency’s “viewability rule” to sunset after a six-month transition period that ends on December 12. Enacted in 2007, the viewability rule requires cable operators that offer service in both analog and digital formats to convert digital must-carry programming to analog format for their analog subscribers. In approving the rule change, the FCC cited substantial declines in the number of subscribers that receive analog-only cable service (i.e., 40 million households in 2007 as opposed to 12 million households today) as well as a revised interpretation of statutory provisions that are “best read to give the operator of a hybrid [cable] system greater flexibility in deciding how to comply with the viewability mandate.” According to the FCC, that interpretation “hinges on a cable operator making equipment available at no cost or an affordable cost” to analog subscribers that will enable them to view digital channels that will no longer be converted to analog after the sunset date. Emphasizing that the underlying statutory provisions on viewability remain in effect, the FCC said it would reserve the right to reinstate dual analog/digital carriage requirements “if we receive a significant number of well founded consumer complaints that an operator is not effectively making affordable set-top boxes available to customers in lieu of analog carriage of a channel.” In a related move applauded by small cable system operators, the FCC also extended for three more years its rule waiver that exempts small cable operators from the requirement to carry in high-definition (HD) format any broadcast signal that is offered in HD. While noting that he is himself an analog cable subscriber, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell endorsed the “more flexible approach that allows cable operators to decide whether to maintain both the analog and digital streams or make available affordable set-top boxes,” as he recognized the importance of the FCC modernizing its rules “to reflect the current media marketplace.” While voting in favor of the rule change, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn sounded a cautionary note, warning: “if set-top box fees become higher than I have been led to expect and viewers experience ‘box shock,’ I . . . will seek appropriate and stiff remedies.” Although National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell lauded the FCC’s decision as one “that will promote the deployment of faster broadband and the expansion of new and exciting digital services,” National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president Dennis Wharton voiced concern that the FCC’s ruling “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.”