Sens. Back Small Cable Operators in Dual-Carriage Matter

Senate Commerce Committee Members Ask FCC Chairman Martin to Consider Exemption

A bipartisan group of Senate Commerce Committee members wrote Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin saying that they think small cable operators should get an exemption from the dual analog/digital carriage requirement the FCC imposed on the cable industry in September.

The FCC is requiring cable operators after the switch to digital in February 2009 to carry must-carry stations -- ones that elected government-required carriage over negotiating with cable operators for payment -- in both digital and analog format.

The FCC said it would allow small systems to file for waivers, but Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and several others said that it could cost those systems as much as $75,000 to comply with the order, which force them to cut back services as they work to fit video, voice and data services on their systems.

The American Cable Association has been pushing for the exemption.

Martin has said that he did not want to give the systems a blanket exemption, but the senators said they saw no reason not to give the systems a dual-carriage waiver and asked Martin to reconsider his position.

The FCC is expected to release its final rules on cable's dual-carriage requirements any day now.

The letter follows a number of others from Capitol Hill expressing concerns about small cable systems (ones with less than 552 megahertz of capacity or fewer than 5,000 subscribers).