The February 2009 digital TV transition is a little more than six months away, and things are starting to get kind of confusing. The Federal Communications Commission reportedly is almost ready to issue an order that would grant small cable TV providers--who are also rural telcos in many cases--an exemption from the "must carry" rule. That is the rule, passed by the FCC almost a year ago, saying cable TV operators who don't go all-digital by next February must carry both analog and digital channels on their networks.
Doing so requires more network capacity than many of the smallest providers have, so it appears the FCC is now set to grant companies with less than 552 Mhz of activated capacity and fewer than 2,500 subscribers a three-year exemption. The National Association of Broadcasters opposes the exemption, and it does raise the concern that what was supposed to be an industry-wide transition could fall apart at a time when many programmers have made the commitment to digital programming. Many of the big cable TV service providers are moving forward too, including Verizon Communications, which has been gradually shutting off analog service in some of the markets where its cable TV-like FiOS TV service is offered.
The small market providers may not have the money to meet the must-carry mandate, but the exemption would help create an environment in which TV customers in small markets are left out of the rapidly evolving advanced TV age. Also, while the markets that the smallest cable TV operators serve are not necessarily the most competitive, an exemption would give the IPTV providers who might be eying those markets more time to perfect their own advanced services. It seems we are about to have yet another kind of digital divide on our hands.
- see this story at Light Reading's Cable Digital News