The unanimous vote last night is a loss for broadcasters, adding to their fear that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is gunning for them. Regulators said that, beginning December 12, cable and satellite companies can offer a single, digital feed of programming from local broadcast stations — not a second one for those with an old analog TV set. Broadcasters wanted to renew the 2007 rule requiring a dual feed so people with analog sets wouldn’t need to buy or rent a digital set top box or converter. Proponents said that was especially important for independent stations as well as those offering programming for minorities or religious viewers. The loss of the analog feed, the National Association of Broadcasters and others said, would weaken the federal protection for diverse programming embodied in the “must carry” mandate for pay TV. But the FCC says a lot has changed over the last five years. When the rule was passed 46% of cable subscribers received providers’ analog service. By the end of this year that will be down to 16%. In addition, costs for digital boxes and converters have come down — and the FCC order requires pay TV companies to provide them to analog customers for an affordable price if not for free. Once they’re able to clear away the analog signals, they’ll have more capacity to offer HD channels or broadband services. The NAB says that it will review its options. The decision adds to broadcasters’ suspicion that Genachowski wants to punish them for resisting his effort to promote wireless broadband. He wants stations to voluntarily relinquish some of their airwave spectrum, and share in the proceeds when it’s auctioned to broadband providers.
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