Court Puts FCC on Must-Carry Clock


The D.C. Circuit Court has given the Federal Communications Commission 30 days to explain why it has not issued a decision on digital-cable must-carry.

The court was responding to a writ of mandamus request from Paxson Communications back in August that the FCC be forced to resolve the issue. Such writs compel lower courts or public officials to perform particular acts as a cross check on the balance of powers.

The FCC does not have to produce a decision before the end of December, but it must at least explain to the court's satisfaction why it has taken so long--the proceeding was launched six years ago, Paxson pointed out.

Paxson argues that the delay is holding up the digital transition and denying analog spectrum to emergency communications. Broadcasters want full carriage of any services that can shoehorn into their digital allocation, not just the duplicate of their analog channel. The cable industry doesn't want to give up more control of its channel lineups, arguing that having to make space for all those ancillary services would displace some channels they, and their subs, would rather see.

Full digital must-carry would make Paxson’s and other broadcasters’ stations more valuable either as ongoing operations or as salable assets. Paxson has long shown signs of wanting to sell his stations, either to part-owner NBC or someone else.