Every three years, commercial television stations must choose between retransmission consent and mandatory carriage, also known as must-carry status, for the carriage of their broadcast signals on cable and satellite systems in their market. Until now, television broadcast stations were required to provide written notice of their choices by certified mail, "return receipt requested" to cable systems and other multichannel video programming distributors ("MVPDs") including DBS operators, electing must-carry or retransmission consent. These notices had to be sent every three years. Effective with the 2021-24 carriage election cycle, however, mail delivery will no longer be required. Rather, broadcasters will only need to place an election notice in the station’s online public inspection file. The notice can simply state "[TV Station] elects must-carry [or retransmission consent] on all MVPDs in the [DMA name] for the 2021-23 carriage cycle." If the station requests different treatment for different MVPDs, the notice can so state.

TV stations need provide notices directly to MVPDs only when changing their previous election (must carry vs. retransmission consent) and, even then, notices may be provided via email and not via hard copy as previously required in the last election cycle.

The FCC made these rule changes at its open meeting last week in response to a Joint Proposal submitted by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and NCTA. The FCC adopted the Joint Proposal, applying it to DBS operators and noncommercial educational ("NCE") TV stations as well. NCE stations must provide notices to DBS operators only since they cannot elect retransmission consent on any other MVPD.

To facilitate adoption of these rule changes, TV stations and MVPDs alike must provide email addresses and phone numbers in their respective online public inspection files by July 31, 2020, which is 60 days prior to the October 1, 2020 election notice deadline for the 2021-23 carriage cycle.

In a separate but related action, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, proposing to allow MVPDs to provide email notices to TV stations for various other matters that currently require notice via certified mail. These notices include a cable system’s proposed deletion or channel change for a broadcast station, a change in the system’s principal headend location, the technical integration of two or more cable systems and the activation of a new cable system. The FCC also seeks comment on whether and how to apply these requirements to DBS providers and to low power TV stations that do not have public files where email addresses can readily be located.