Amidst sudden rumblings that the FCC is considering allowing a “Must-Carry” corollary to expire, NRB quickly engaged the FCC and Capitol Hill on behalf of Christian broadcasters. The “Viewability Rule” is set to sunset on June 12 unless the FCC acts to extend it. Allowing it to terminate would be to the detriment of millions of American households and to free, local television.
The Viewability Rule, established at the time of the federally mandated transition of television from analog to digital signals, requires cable companies to ensure that Must-Carry local broadcaster programming is viewable to their subscribers, regardless of whether the cable system is analog, digital, or a hybrid system. Must-Carry laws enable many local television broadcast stations, including Christian stations, to be viewed on pay-tv platforms, and they have been upheld by Congress and the Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the FCC also affirmed that “must-carry stations must be viewable” and proceeded to highlight that “the available market evidence seems to indicate that the viewability requirements remain important to consumers…. as of the third quarter of 2011, more than twelve million cable households were reliant on analog cable delivery.” Despite those assertions, however, rumors have recently risen of a move to let the Viewability Rule sunset, perhaps with a brief transition period for analog cable customers who want to take the initiative to rent or purchase special boxes to continue getting all their local Must-Carry channels.
NRB had sent a letter of support for the Viewabiilty Rule to the FCC earlier this spring. Given the shifting environment, NRB President and CEO Dr. Frank Wright quickly sent letters to key Congressional leaders with FCC oversight responsibilities and declared, “This completely undermines ‘must-carry’ and we have strongly urged the FCC to extend this “viewability” requirement so as to avoid a substantial burden on our faith-based stations, particularly after the significant investment of those stations to satisfy the recent digital transition mandate.” Dr. Wright also noted, “Even further, if cable companies can force some of their subscribers to pay for set-top devices now, can future fees imposed on customers to access local programming, including religious content, be far behind?”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations