CABLE CARRIAGE OF DIGITAL TV
SIGNALS SUMMARY OF FCC RULES ADOPTED JANUARY 18, 2001
On January 18, 2001, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules resolving a number of technical
and legal matters related to the cable carriage of digital broadcast signals. In
its Report and Order, the FCC clarifies that a digital-only television station,
commercial or non-commercial, can immediately assert its right to carriage on a
cable system. The FCC also said that a TV station that returns its analog
spectrum and converts to digital operations must be carried by cable systems.
This action is one of a series of steps to facilitate the transition from analog
to digital television broadcasting. This transition will ultimately expand
consumer choice of video programming and other services. The transition from
analog to digital will allow for more efficient use of the spectrum that will
permit new communications and video services in parts of the spectrum returned
to the FCC for auction to new competitive providers.
- A commercial television station, broadcasting in both formats during the
transition period, may choose must carry or retransmission consent for its
analog signal and retransmission consent for its digital signal. A DTV-only
commercial television station may elect either retransmission consent or must
- A DTV-only noncommercial station is also entitled to must carry. While a
noncommercial television station does not have retransmission consent rights
under Section 325 of the Act, it may nevertheless enter into digital carriage
agreements with cable operators and other MVPDs.
- A DTV-only television station may make its retransmission consent/must
carry election any time between 60 days prior to commencing service and 30
days after commencing service. If must carry is chosen, the cable operator
must commence carriage 90 days after the election is made.
- A television station electing retransmission consent may negotiate with a
cable operator for partial carriage of its digital television signal.
- The current prohibition on exclusive retransmission consent agreements
encompasses a television station’s analog and digital signals. This
prohibition expires on January 1, 2006.
- For the time being, a television station may tie the carriage of its
digital signal with the carriage of the analog signal as a retransmission
consent condition. The Commission will monitor the marketplace for potential
- The Report and Order revises the method of calculating a cable
system’s channel capacity to account for changes in digital technology. To
determine whether the one-third statutory cap for the carriage of commercial
television station signals has been met, a cable operator shall take the total
usable activated channel capacity of the system in megahertz and divide it by
- The current statutory definitions of “usable activated channels” and
“activated channels” will continue to apply in determining channel capacity in
the digital context.
- A cable operator may choose which additional television station signals to
carry if the one-third statutory cap is met. Digital television signals
carried under retransmission consent count toward the cap.
- The current statutory framework for determining the carriage requirement
for noncommercial educational television stations will continue to apply in
the digital context.
Content of Signals Subject to
- The Report and Order finds that the signal strength level
necessary to provide a good quality digital signal at a cable system’s
principal headend is –61 dBm.
- Primary Video. The Report and Order finds that the “primary
video” entitled to mandatory carriage includes a single programming stream and
other program-related content. The television station chooses which one of its
unrelated multiplexed signals gets carried under the Act. The Further Notice
seeks comment on how to define “program-related” in the context of primary
- Ancillary or Supplementary Services. The Report and Order finds
that a cable operator is not required to carry ancillary or supplementary
services transmitted on a digital television signal.
- Program-related. A cable operator would be required to carry the following
material carried on a digital television signal because it could be considered
program-related under the WGN factors: (1) closed captioning, (2) V-chip data,
(3) Nielsen ratings data, and (4) channel mapping and tuning protocols
- Not program-related. A cable operator would not be required to carry
internet and e-commerce services provided by a digital television station if
such services are not related to the primary video television signal carried
by the cable operator.
- Electronic Program Guides (EPGs). Whether a cable operator would be
required to carry electronic program guides is subject to a fact-based
- The Report and Order defers further interpretation of
“substantial duplication” in the digital context until the Commission decides
the dual carriage matter. In the meantime, the current duplication definitions
Set-Top Box Availability
- The Report and Order finds that a cable operator would not
necessarily be materially degrading a digital television signal if it carries
less than the full 19.4 mbps transmitted by a broadcaster.
- The Report and Order finds that a cable operator may not carry a
digital television signal in a lesser format or lower resolution than that
afforded to a non-broadcast digital programmer carried on the cable system.
However, a digital-only television station may demand that a cable operator
carry its digital signal in an analog format without the prohibition against
material degradation being violated. If a television station chooses to be
carried in this manner, it is treated in the same manner as an analog signal.
- Cable operators are permitted to remodulate digital broadcast signals from
8 VSB to 64 or 256 QAM. Cable operators are not required to pass-through 8
- The Report and Order finds that a cable operator is not required
under the Act to provide subscribers with a set-top box capable of processing
digital television signals for display on analog sets.
- The Report and Order finds that there is no need to implement
channel positioning requirements for digital television signals like those
that exist for analog signals.
- The Report and Order finds that channel mapping protocols
contained in the PSIP datastream adequately address a television station’s
channel positioning concerns.
Digital Signal Carriage on PEG
- The Report and Order finds that Nielsen’s market designations and
assignments are applicable to analog and digital television stations.
- The statutory market modification factors, the current process for
requesting market modifications, and the evidence needed to support such
petitions, apply to both analog and digital television stations during the
- The Report and Order finds that the carriage of NCE and LPTV
digital signals on unused public, educational, and governmental access
channels, with the permission of the local franchising authority, is
consistent with the Act.
- The Report and Order finds that the current procedures for filing
must carry complaints should be used for digital carriage complaints.
- The Report and Order finds that a cable operator must notify its
subscribers whenever a digital television signal is added to the cable system
Tiers and Rates
The Report and Order finds that digital television signals must be
available to subscribers on a basic service tier. The Further Notice seeks
comment on voluntary carriage of digital signals on a tier other than the basic
The Report and Order finds that there may be some cable systems
undertaking significant system upgrades, a part of which will include a digital
build-out. For these systems, the Report and Order finds that a Form 1235
upgrade rate adjustment would provide an appropriate incentive for a cable
operator to upgrade its system and carry digital television signals.
Found below is a summary of the matters raised for comment in
- The Report and Order finds that there is an inadequate record in
this proceeding to institute a change or repeal of the network
non-duplication, syndicated exclusivity, and sports blackout rules.
- The FNPRM seeks comment on the necessity of a dual carriage requirement to
hasten the digital transition and the return of the analog spectrum.
- The FNPRM seeks digital programming information from broadcasters so that
the Commission can determine the appropriate substantial duplication
definition to apply during the transition period.
- To satisfy constitutional concerns about the lack of an adequate record,
the FNPRM seeks updated channel capacity information from cable operators. It
also seeks comment on current technologies that conserve or recapture cable
- The FNPRM seeks comment on the status and scope of digital retransmission
- In conjunction with the requirement that cable operators carry material
that is associated with the primary video stream, the FNPRM seeks further
comment on the proper scope of the program related carriage requirement.
- The FNPRM seeks comment on proposals allowing cable operators to increase
basic service tier rates for each 6 MHz of capacity devoted to the carriage of
digital television signals.
- The FNPRM seeks comment on the application of the digital cable carriage
rules, and digital program exclusivity policies, to satellite carriers who
provide local-into-local television service under the SHVIA.