Regulatory Activity

D.C. Circuit Upholds Sunset Of FCC’s “Viewability Rule”

On December 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit released a decision upholding the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to sunset its dual carriage “viewability rule.” The rule, adopted in 2007, required “hybrid” cable operators – those that provide both analog and digital cable service – to “downconvert” the digital signals of must-carry channels for subscribers with analog television sets. In 2012, the FCC adopted an order allowing the rule to expire and replaced it with new rules that instead allow cable operators to provide affordable conversion equipment to analog customers. A number of broadcasters challenged the FCC’s order, arguing that it violated the must-carry requirements of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. The court, however, found that the petitioners’ claims lacked merit. In a concurring opinion, Judge Brett Kavanaugh went beyond the immediate issue of the “viewability rule” to argue that changes in the marketplace have undermined the constitutional foundation of the entire must-carry regime. Judge Kavanaugh wrote that the FCC’s existing program carriage and non-discrimination regimes “rest on a hollowed-out foundation,” and predicted that further First Amendment challenges to must-carry requirements “no doubt loom on the horizon.”

FCC Releases NPRM To Eliminate Sports Blackout Rules

On December 18, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to eliminate the agency’s sports blackout rules. The current rules prohibit certain multichannel video programming distributors from retransmitting, within a protected local blackout zone, the signal of a distant broadcast station carrying a live sporting event if the event is not available live on a local television broadcast station. The FCC asserts that changes in the sports industry have called into question whether the rules remain necessary to ensure the overall availability of sports programming to the general public. A number of public interest groups have urged the FCC to eliminate the rules on the basis that they are obsolete and do not benefit consumers. Broadcasters have voiced opposition to the NPRM, however, arguing that elimination of the rules may hasten the migration of sports programming to pay-television platforms and disadvantage viewers who receive only free, over-the-air broadcast programming.

Upcoming Deadlines:

  • Friday, January 10: Reply comments are due in response to Sprint Corporation’s petition seeking reconsideration of certain rules adopted in the FCC’s Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service reform order, released August 26.
  • Monday, January 13: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing additional measures intended to ensure that interstate and intrastate rates for inmate calling services are reasonable and fair.
  • Monday, January 13: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s NPRM proposing to eliminate the UHF discount in the FCC’s national television multiple ownership rule.