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FCC Chairman To Open Up Quiet Period For Comment

Martin on Quiet Period: “It is important as you approach the DTV Transition”

PITTSBURGH, November 11, 2008 - Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin yesterday voiced his support for a rulemaking that would establish a quiet period for broadcast carriage talks between cable operators and broadcasters during the digital television (DTV) transition.  Responding to a report by Broadcasting & Cable yesterday, ACA applauded the Chairman for his leadership and renewed its claim that for a quiet period to be effective, it must begin no later than December 31, 2008 - the expiration date of thousands of current broadcast carriage deals.

"The date of the DTV transition is rapidly approaching and every precaution must be taken to ensure its success," said ACA president and Chief Executive Officer Matthew M. Polka. "It is encouraging that Chairman Martin continues to recognize how important a quiet period is to the success of the transition, and that he is committed to issuing a rulemaking notice to solicit comments from interested parties.  We thank the Chairman and the other Commissioners for their leadership on this matter.

"Unless the FCC establishes a quiet period, dropped signals in the months ahead will continue to cause confused cable and satellite customers to needlessly request digital-to-analog converter box coupons," Polka continued.  "These added requests would cause a potentially unsustainable strain on the National Telecommunications and Information Agency's (NTIA) coupon program and could ultimately mean households that actually need government coupons and converter boxes may not be able to get them and would lose television service.  To minimize this risk, it's essential that the Commission establish a quiet period that beings before December 31, the date most broadcast carriage agreements expire."

The NTIA recently reported an "uptick" in households requesting coupons in some markets affected by LIN TV's decision to pull 15 broadcast stations from 1.5 million Time Warner and Bright House cable customers in 11 markets for nearly a month in October.  There is reason to believe that the increase in coupon demand in these markets was caused by confused cable customers.  The Government Accountability Office's (GAO) June report to Congress found that among households that would be unaffected by the transition, which includes many cable and satellite TV customers, 30 percent actually had plans to ready themselves - despite the fact that no action is required on their part to maintain television service (the report is available here).

On October 22, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Nathan Deal (R-GA), two lawmakers who support the establishment of a quiet period, sent a letter to NTIA Acting Secretary Meredith Baker and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin seeking data to determine the impact of pulled stations caused by broadcast carriage disputes on the government's coupon program (the letter is available here).  Noting the NTIA's report of an "uptick" in demand for converter box coupons in markets affected by the recent carriage dispute involving LIN TV, the lawmakers asked the NTIA to provide coupon request data from affected markets.  The NTIA has not yet responded to the Representatives' request.

According to the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) September 15 Congressional Report, an increase in coupon requests as the transition date nears, might mean that consumers who actually need a box would incur a significant wait time before they receive their coupons, and might even lose television service before the coupon arrives (the report is available here).  Some lawmakers and policymakers have also raised concerns that the NTIA's coupon program does not have enough funding to meet the demands of all broadcast-only homes. 

In July, the American Cable Association (ACA) first urged the Commission to prohibit broadcasters and operators from pulling television stations from cable and satellite TV customers for a period of time around the digital transition that lasts until at least May 31, 2009 (the filing is available here).  In May, the ACA first notified Congress that there was risk that upcoming broadcast carriage negotiations could derail the digital television transition (the testimony is available here).

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About the American Cable Association

Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing 1,100 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit www.americancable.org.

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