FCC Releases Details on DBS Digital Broadcast Carriage Order

More than a week after actually approving the item, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday came out with its formal order on carriage of digital broadcast signals via satellite TV. And the rules released Thursday didn't offer any surprises.

With the FCC mandate, satellite TV services will be required to carry digital-only stations on request in markets in which they are providing local TV service, and to deliver all high-def signals in a market if station signals are carried in HD. As expected, the rules will allow satellite TV platforms to phase in the local HD markets under a four-year process that begins after the nation's switch to digital TV, set for Feb. 17, 2009.

The order is the latest in a series of FCC efforts aimed at ensuring consumers receive local stations after the digital TV switch. Last fall, the commission adopted its dual-carriage order requiring cable operators to deliver both analog and digital broadcast signals to customers for three years after the transition.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the satellite TV order provides for "regulatory parity" in the agency's policymaking. He added, "The commission remains committed to taking whatever actions are necessary to minimize the potential burden the digital transition could impose on consumers and maximize their ability to benefit from it."

Commissioners praised satellite TV for collaborating on a solution for carriage of digital broadcast signals. Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said the effort "is good example of utilizing common sense in order to reach a positive consumer result through a practical industry-driven solution."

However, one commissioner had concerns about the order. Michael Copps suggested there was "inaction" by the FCC to address ideas offered years ago by DISH Network and DIRECTV.

"Had we acted earlier, could DIRECTV and EchoStar have designed their satellites differently in order to permit full local HD carriage before 2013? We may never know," Copps said.