Calling further commission delay “inexcusable,” Paxson Communications wants the D.C. Circuit Court to give the FCC 30 days to resolve the issue of digital cable must carry once and for all.
Lawyers for Paxson petitioned the court for a writ of mandamus Friday, saying it had been six years since the commission launched the proceeding into clarifying cable’s digital carriage obligations and that the commission had “inexcusably failed to issue a final order.”
Cable is required to carry the analog signal of any broadcaster that elects not to negotiate a payment for that signal, but it has yet to be determined whether digital carriage requirements include the extra channels broadcasters can fit into their new spectrum. It ruled back in 2001 that cable must carry at least one digital signal from each broadcaster, but punted on the thornier issue of whether that extended to multicast streams.
Paxson says it does, that Congress’ clearly intended it to, and that the delay in making that explicit is the “primary roadblock” to the transition to digital and the return of spectrum for other uses, including emergency communications--a hot button issue Paxson explicitly explicitly.
The petition argues, among other things, that the delay is denying the spectrum “to the very personnel who lacked sufficient spectrum on Sept. 11, 2001, to effectively communicate with each other.”
The D.C. Circuit is the court designated to review FCC actions, and Paxson points out that in the past the court has compelled agency action for shorter delays than six years and for cases in which the record is not complete, as Paxson charges it is with DTV. Paxson calls seeking the writ a “last resort.”
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.
NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz responded to the filing: "Paxson offers a prime example of why broadcasters should not be given expanded digital must carry rights. With its analog channel, Paxson already rents out part of its broadcast day for paid programming. More infomercial channels will not speed the DTV transition."