Given that low power television (LPTV) stations have been trying unsuccessfully for many years to obtain must-carry rights comparable to those enjoyed by full-power stations, it is often overlooked that some LPTVs do, in fact, have carriage rights. However, these must-carry rights are available only to a select few LPTV stations.
Specifically, an LPTV station is “qualified” for mandatory carriage only if: 1) it broadcasts at least the minimum number of hours required of full-power stations by the FCC’s rules; 2) it meets all the obligations applicable to full-power television stations including, among other things, with respect to non-entertainment programming, and provides local news, informational and children’s programming that addresses local needs that are not being met by full-power stations; 3) it complies with interference restrictions consistent with its secondary status; 4) it is located no more than 35 miles from the cable system’s principal headend and delivers a good quality signal to that headend; 5) the community of license of the station and the franchise area of the cable system were both located outside the largest 160 markets on June 30, 1990 and the population of the community of license was not larger than 35,000 as of that date; and 6) there is no full power television station licensed to any community within the county served by the cable system.
The last two criteria are typically the most difficult obstacles for LPTV licensees to overcome, as cable systems are only required to carry LPTVs in the smallest of markets and, even in those areas, only when there is a dearth of full-power stations in the area. While the restrictions are difficult for most LPTV stations to meet, a recent FCC decision shows that it is not impossible. In that case (found here), digital LPTV station WRTN-LD, located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, was able to convince the FCC, over the objections of Comcast, that the station is a “qualified” LPTV station entitled to must-carry rights on Comcast’s cable system. While Comcast argued that the station is part of the Nashville market and therefore ineligible for must-carry rights, the station was able to demonstrate that its service area was outside the Nashville market and that it met the other qualifying criteria.
This case serves as a reminder to all licensees to investigate options and not merely presume that no help is available at the FCC or elsewhere. For LPTV licensees in particular, a quick review of the LPTV carriage criteria above with respect to their own situation is well worth the effort involved.