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ACA Asks FCC To Extend HD Must-Carry Exemption

Some Very Small Systems Need Relief For Three More Years

PITTSBURGH, January 30, 2015 - The American Cable Association asked the Federal Communications Commission to extend an exemption that allows a limited number of very small cable systems from having to distribute must-carry TV stations in digital high-definition (HD) format.

"This exemption is critical for dozens of small cable operators that currently lack either the channel capacity or the financial wherewithal to upgrade their very small systems to accommodate the capacity demands of carriage of must-carry TV stations in HD.  Without the exemption, many would be forced to drop existing channels or shut down systems altogether," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA is seeking FCC relief now because the current exemption is set to expire in June.  According to an ACA survey, the exemption has been very helpful to dozens of small cable operators and their customers and will continue to be helpful if the FCC agrees to extend the exemption for three more years.  "Must carry" refers to a provision in the 1992 Cable Act that allows any full-power TV station to demand cable carriage in its local market without receiving compensation in exchange.

The FCC exemption for eligible cable systems means they don't have to deliver to their subscribers the signals of must-carry TV stations in digital HD format.  Instead, they can continue to offer the signals in analog or down-converted standard definition digital format.  The HD exemption applies to cable systems with less than 553 MHz of channel capacity or systems of any capacity that serve no more than 2,500 subscribers and do not have ownership ties to a multichannel video programming distributor serving more than 10% of all MVPD subscribers nationally.

According to ACA's survey, 53 ACA members reported operating a total of 143 cable systems that currently rely on the HD carriage exemption.  These very small systems serve an average of 350 subscribers, and offer an average of 2½ must-carry signals in a down-converted standard definition format.

The FCC adopted the HD carriage exemption in June 2008, with an original expiration date of June 12, 2012.  In 2012, at ACA's request, the FCC extended the exemption for an additional three years, finding the same financial and capacity constraints that small cable operators faced in 2008 continued to exist and concluded that these operators required additional time to come into full compliance.

For cable systems that continue to rely on the HD carriage exemption in 2015, ACA found that very little has changed to alter the FCC's 2012 conclusion that the exemption remains necessary to protect very small system operators and consumers from the potential costs and service disruptions that immediate compliance would engender.  The harms that would result from requiring these very small cable systems to carry must-carry HD broadcast signals in HD remain as significant today as they were in 2008 and 2012.

ACA also asked the FCC to affirm that analog-only systems with no digital video bandwidth have been and are permanently exempt from the requirement to transmit must-carry signals in HD on the grounds of technical infeasibility.

About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing nearly 850 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for nearly 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.  For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/

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