Comcast changes the channel on government programming
Thursday afternoon at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) executive board – I’m a member of the LTC board of directors – I learned that Comcast had unilaterally decreed that on March 20, 2012, it would move the content of Lowell Cable channel 10, our government access station, to channel 99. In its place Comcast is inserting WWPD, a station based in Norwell, Massachusetts, that airs home-shopping programs from ShopNBC.
The letter from Comcast contains this line: “As a result of WWDP electing must-carry status under FCC Rule 76.56, we will be making the following channel lineup changes on March 20, 2012 to accommodate their request: WWDP will move from Ch 72 to Ch 10; Government Access will move from Ch 10 to Ch 99.”
I’m not sure what FCC Rule 76.56 says, but I do know that Comcast owns NBC and that having the NBC shopping network lower on the channel spectrum (channel 10) will make it a much more likely destination for viewers, all to the financial benefit of Comcast, while the citizens of Lowell will have a little bit harder time finding the telecasts of local government meetings and events.
The city council will address this at its meeting this Tuesday night. Councilor Bill Martin, who is a member of the LTC Board of Directors and the chair of the council’s cable TV subcommittee, made a motion for a report on this change. I suspect that the contract between Comcast and the city of Lowell might give the cable company the power to make this change in such an abrupt manner, but just because they have the power to do it doesn’t mean they should, nor does in lessen the impact on the citizens of Lowell.
2 Responses to Comcast changes the channel on government programming
Kudos to Bill Martin, and for your bringing this up here. I got the postcard in the mail, and I suspected something not-quite-clean was behind the move. Ownership of the NBC dreck is hardly surprising, but no less disgusting. The nanosecond FIOS becomes available to me I’m switching. (We can’t have dishes in my neighborhood owing to historical commission rules or I’d have gone that way long ago). All this for things like last night’s UMass Lowell victory over BU live on NESN. (I hate myself for being so easy and vulnerable). Can’t wait until all our TV is over the net and we can get everything from everywhere.
FCC Rule 76.56:
§ 76.56 Signal carriage obligations.
(a) Carriage of qualified noncommercial educational stations. A cable television system shall carry
qualified NCE television stations in accordance with the following provisions:
(1) Each cable operator shall carry on its cable television system any qualified local NCE television
station requesting carriage, except that
(i) Systems with 12 or fewer usable activated channels, as defined in §76.6(oo), shall be required to
carry the signal of one such station;
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(ii) Systems with 13 to 36 usable activated channels, as defined in §76.5(oo), shall be required to carry
at least one qualified local NCE station, but not more than three such stations; and
(iii) Systems with more than 36 usable activated channels shall be required to carry the signals of all
qualified local NCE television stations requesting carriage, but in any event at least three such signals;
however a cable system with more than 36 channels shall not be required to carry an additional qualified
local NCE station whose programming substantially duplicates the programming of another qualified
local NCE station being carried on the system.
Note: For purposes of this paragraph, a station will be deemed to “substantially duplicate” the
programming of another station if it broadcasts the same programming, simultaneous or nonsimultaneous,
for more than 50 percent of prime time, as defined in §76.5(n), and more than
50 percent outside of prime time over a three-month period.
(2)(i) In the case of a cable system with 12 or fewer channels that operates beyond the presence of any
qualified local NCE stations, the cable operator shall import one qualified NCE television station.
(ii) A cable system with between 13 and 36 channels that operates beyond the presence of any qualified
local NCE stations, the cable operator shall import at least one qualified NCE television station.
(3) A cable system with 12 or fewer usable activated channels shall not be required to remove any
programming service provided to subscribers as of March 29, 1990, to satisfy these requirements,
except that the first available channel must be used to satisfy these requirements.
(4) A cable system with 13 to 36 usable activated channels which carries the signal of a qualified local
NCE station affiliated with a State public television network shall not be required to carry more than one
qualified local NCE station affiliated with such network, if the programming of such additional stations
substantially duplicates, as defined in the note in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, the programming of a
qualified local NCE television station receiving carriage.
(5) Notwithstanding the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section, all cable operators shall
continue to provide carriage to all qualified local NCE television stations whose signals were carried on
their systems as of March 29, 1990. In the case of a cable system that is required to import a distance
qualified NCE signal, and such system imported the signal of a qualified NCE station as of March 29,
1990, such cable system shall continue to import such signal until such time as a qualified local NCE
signal is available to the cable system. This requirements may be waived with respect to a particular
cable operator and a particular NCE station, upon the written consent of the cable operator and the
(b) Carriage of local commercial television stations. Effective June 2, 1993, a cable television system
shall carry local commercial broadcast television stations in accordance with the following provisions:
(1) A cable system with 12 or fewer usable activated channels, as defined in §76.5(oo), shall carry the
signals of at least three qualified local commercial television stations, except that if such system serves
300 or fewer subscribers it shall not be subject to these requirements as long as it does not delete from
carriage the signal of a broadcast television station which was carried on that system on October 5,
(2) A cable system with more than 12 usable activated channels, as defined in §76.5(oo), shall carry
local commercial television stations up to one-third of the aggregate number of usable activated
channels of such system.
(3) If there are not enough local commercial television stations to fill the channels set aside under
paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) of this section, a cable operator of a system with 35 or fewer usable
activated channels, as defined in §76.5(oo), shall, if such stations exist, carry one qualified low power
television station and a cable system with more than 35 usable activated channels shall carry two
qualified low power stations.
(4) Whenever the number of local commercial television stations exceeds the maximum number of
signals a cable system is required to carry under paragraph (b)(1) or (b)(2) of this section, the cable
operator shall have discretion in selecting which such stations shall be carried on its cable system,
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(i) Under no circumstances shall a cable operator carry a qualified low power station in lieu of a local
commercial television station; and
(ii) If the cable operator elects to carry an affiliate of a broadcast network, as defined in §76.55(f), such
cable operator shall carry the affiliate of such broadcast network whose community of license reference
point, as defined in §76.53, is closest to the principal headend, as defined in §76.5(pp), of the cable
(5) A cable operator is not required to carry the signal of any local commercial television station that
substantially duplicates the signal of another local commercial television station that is carried on its
cable system, or to carry the signals of more than one local commercial television station affiliated with a
particular broadcast network, as defined in §76.55(f). However, if a cable operator declines to carry
duplicating signals, such cable operator shall carry the station whose community of license reference
point, as defined in §76.53, is closest to the principal headend of the cable system. For purposes of this
paragraph, substantially duplicates means that a station regularly simultaneously broadcasts the
identical programming as another station for more than 50 percent of the broadcast week. For purposes
of this definition, only identical episodes of a television series are considered duplicative and commercial
inserts are excluded from the comparison. When the stations being compared are licensed to
communities in different time zones, programming aired by a station within one hour of the identical
program being broadcast by another station will be considered duplicative.
(7) A local commercial television station carried to fulfill the requirements of this paragraph, which
subsequently elects retransmission consent pursuant to §76.64, shall continue to be carried by the cable
system until the effective date of such retransmission consent election.
(c) Use of public, educational, or governmental (PEG) channels. A cable operator required to carry more
than one signal of a qualified low power station or to add qualified local NCE stations in fulfillment of
these must-carry obligations may do so, subject to approval by the franchising authority pursuant to
Section 611 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, by placing such additional station on
public, educational, or governmental channels not in use for their designated purposes.
(d) Availability of signals. (1) Local commercial television stations carried in fulfillment of the
requirements of this section shall be provided to every subscriber of a cable system. Such signals shall
be viewable via cable on all television receivers of a subscriber which are connected to a cable system
by a cable operator or for which a cable operator provides a connection.
(2) Qualified local NCE television stations carried in fulfillment of the carriage obligations of a cable
operator under this section shall be available to every subscriber as part of the cable system’s lowest
priced service tier that includes the retransmission of local commercial television broadcast signals.
(3) The viewability and availability requirements of this section require that, after the broadcast television
transition from analog to digital service for full power television stations cable operators must either:
(i) Carry the signals of commercial and non-commercial must-carry stations in analog format to all
analog cable subscribers, or
(ii) For all-digital systems, carry those signals in digital format, provided that all subscribers, including
those with analog television sets, that are connected to a cable system by a cable operator or for which
the cable operator provides a connection have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.
(4) Any costs incurred by a cable operator in downconverting or carrying alternative-format versions of
signals under §76.56(d)(3)(i) or (ii) shall be the responsibility of the cable operator.
(5) The requirements set forth in paragraph (d)(3) of this section shall cease to be effective three years
from the date on which all full-power television stations cease broadcasting analog signals, unless the
Commission extends the requirements in a proceeding to be conducted during the year preceding such
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(e) Carriage of additional broadcast television signals on such system shall be at the discretion of the
cable operator, subject to the retransmission consent rules, §76.64. A cable system may also carry any
ancillary or other transmission contained in the broadcast television signal.
(f) Calculation of broadcast signals carried. When calculating the portion of a cable system devoted to
carriage of local commercial television stations under paragraph (b) of this section, a cable operator may
count the primary video and program-related signals of all such stations, and any alternative-format
versions of those signals, that they carry.
Note 1 to §76.56: Section 76.1620 provides notification requirements for a cable operator who
authorizes subscribers to install additional receiver connections, but does not provide the
subscriber with such connections, or with the equipment and materials for such connections.
Note 2 to §76.56: Section 76.1614 provides response requirements for a cable operator who
receives a written request to identify its must-carry signals.
Note 3 to §76.56: Section 76.1709 provides recordkeeping requirements with regard to a
cable operator’s list of must-carry signals.
[58 FR 17360, Apr. 2, 1993, as amended at 58 FR 39161, July 22, 1993; 58 FR 40368, July 28, 1993;
59 FR 62344, Dec. 5, 1994; 65 FR 53614, Sept. 5, 2000; 66 FR 16553, Mar. 26, 2001; 73 FR 6054,
Feb. 1, 2008]