Six national cable networks have rekindled debate over the FCC's "must carry" rule for new digital broadcast signals. The six networks - C-SPAN, Discovery Communications, The Weather Channel, TV One, A&E Television, and Scripps Network - are in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the rule.
In the 1990s, the cable industry challenged the requirement to carry all television broadcasters' analog signals for no charge. The industry lost in a 5-4 decision. Ever since, the question of whether cable operators must carry broadcasters' digital signals has been a political hornet's nest. Under FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, some cable operators are now required to carry both analog and digital signals for three years after the transition to digital television in February 2009.
"Once again, the government has given an unfair advantage to broadcast licensees," says Bruce Collins, corporate vice president and general counsel of C-SPAN, who claims cable programmers have been given "second-class status" in the eyes of the FCC. "We've got other legal arguments, but the First Amendment argument is pretty strong," he added.