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ACA Urges FCC To Retain Small System HD Exemption For Broadcast Stations

Trade Group Asks Agency To Affirm Analog-Only Systems Not Subject To HD Requirement At All

PITTSBURGH, April 29, 2015 - The American Cable Association has urged the Federal Communications Commission to give the smallest cable systems an additional three-year exemption from a requirement to distribute local TV stations in the high-definition format and to affirm that analog-only cable systems are not subject to the requirement at all.

"Small systems continue to experience financial strain or are hindered by a lack of excess channel capacity, or both. Forcing these systems to launch HD signals exacerbates these financial and capacity constraints and makes system shut-downs more likely, potentially removing a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) competitor from small, rural markets," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

The HD exemption, which the FCC adopted in 2008 and extended in 2012, applies to cable systems with 2,500 or fewer subscribers with no ownership links in cable companies with more than 10 million subscribers or those with 552 MHz or less capacity.  Unless extended, the exemption is set to expire on June 12, 2015.

The HD exemption permits operators of small cable systems that receive the signals of broadcast stations in HD to down-convert them to either standard definition or analog for distribution to their subscribers.  In response to ACA's Petition showing continued need, the FCC tentatively concluded that the HD exemption should be extended for an additional three years.

ACA urged the FCC to adopt its tentative conclusion and grant the requested relief in a pair of comments filed within the past two weeks -- ahead of the June sunset for the current HD exemption.  In its filings, ACA urged the FCC to:

  • Extend the HD exemption and for three more years and retain its current definition of a small system eligible for exemption without alteration in coverage. The exemption remains necessary to protect subscribers of small systems from the costs and disruptions that may result from requiring covered systems to deliver HD signals in HD when the exemption expires in June. The circumstances that justified the HD carriage exemption and its initial extension have not improved, strongly suggesting that limiting the scope of the exemption at this time would be contrary to the public interest;
  • Confirm that analog-only systems are exempt from the HD carriage requirement because analog-only systems provide signals only in analog and lack the equipment necessary to deliver signals in digital, or any other, format that would allow the delivery of HD programming. For these systems, requiring HD carriage of broadcast signals would be infeasible for both technical and operational reasons, particularly for small systems that have financial limitations.


On reply, ACA noted that the record unanimously supports FCC confirmation that analog-only systems are exempt from the HD carriage requirement because it is technically infeasible for them to do so without requiring them to incur the substantial investments needed to upgrade their systems.  Loss of the HD exemption at this time would cause many small systems to either make untimely expenditures for costly equipment, drop other programming, or shut down, depriving customers in smaller towns and rural areas to lose an affordable, locally-based MVPD.

ACA argued that legal and policy objections to extension of the exemption lodged by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), including proposals to limit the amount and types of systems eligible for the exemption, lack merit and should be rejected.  ACA demonstrated that the FCC has broad authority over cable carriage of broadcast signals, particularly during the DTV transition, and the HD carriage exemption fits comfortably within this statutory authority.

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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