Given DBS Carriage Rules, Small Cable Wants DTV Break Too

Now that satellite TV companies have some flexibility in rolling out HD locals, small cable interests want the same thing.

This week, the Federal Communications Commission approved a still-to-be released order that according to sources gives satellite TV services a four-year, phased-in process for delivering local high-def channels after the nation's digital TV transition. The mandate would require carriage of all HD locals in markets served by a DBS company, stated reports.

Small cable is hoping to catch a similar break as well, lobbying the FCC for a small system exemption from dual-carriage rules. Small, independent cable operators fret that the regulations, which require carriage of both a broadcaster's analog and digital signal after the switch to digital TV, would be burdensome for their capacity-strained systems.

Matt Polka of the American Cable Association said the FCC order on DBS delivery of HD locals is a positive sign for small cable companies.

"But while the FCC's reported decision is encouraging, we certainly hope the commission fully understands that easing the rules for only one set of providers would give satellite TV a competitive advantage over small and independent cable operators, and that the last thing the second and fourth largest pay television companies in the country need is more of an advantage," he said.

The FCC has acknowledged the need for flexibility during the transition, "and there are very real challenges facing both cable and satellite providers," Polka said. "However, the system size and technical capacity limitations of small, independent cable systems are no less real or any less of a challenge than the technical issues these multibillion-dollar providers would face.