FCC Fights Dual Decision


As expected, the FCC has told a D.C. Federal Appeals Court it shouldn’t be pushed into making an immediate decision over cable carriage of TV stations’ digital signals, one of the most contentious issues dividing the cable and broadcast industries.

The FCC made its declaration in a court filing to opposing Paxson Communications’ demand that the court force the FCC to resolve the digital must-carry issue as soon as possible.

Paxson says the FCC is well beyond tardy in resolving carriage questions left hanging since January 2001, when the commission “tentatively” concluded that stations were not entitled to dual carriage of both their analog and digital channels during the transition to all-digital broadcasting. Paxson says the FCC also has dragged its feet resolving appeals of the FCC’s simultaneous declaration that digital stations’ carriage rights were limited to one “primary” channel and did not include the additional “multicast” channels that digital technology enables stations to offer. Paxson and other broadcasters say they are entitled to carriage of every channel that is offered free over the air.

The commission told the court that it had already resolved the multicasting issue—by telling broadcasters no. As for the pending reconsideration request, the FCC said broadcasters are not entitled to seek court redress and will just have to wait on the FCC before appealing to court. As for the dual carriage dispute, the FCC said Paxson had failed to show that lack of a final decision "warrants the drastic remedy" of a court-forced decision.

Following the FCC’s filing, Paxson officials said that the FCC’s rational against multicast carriage rights violates an earlier case establishing stations’ carriage rights. The company plans to file a formal response with the court the first week of January.

Paxson wants the FCC to require cable companies to carry all of the programming that TV stations can offer via their new digital spectrum. That would increase the value of Paxson's  mostly-UHF stations, which are widely believed to have been on the block, or near it, for some time.

In a statement, Paxson argued that it wasn't even asking for a dual carriage decision, saying: "In the hundreds of pages that Paxson has filed on this issue over the course of seven years, we have never suggested, never asked, for dual must-carry. We've only asked for carriage for the DTV signals.”

A Paxson spokeswoman said the company’s response would be “very enlightening." She also expected the company to have more to say before that, once execs had given the FCC response thorough analysis.