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Court Thwarts Broadcasters’ Bid to Block FCC Decision on Viewability Rule

Millions of cable TV subscribers may have to buy or lease new converter boxes to continue watching some local stations

A federal appeals court refused on Monday to block an FCC decision phasing out its so-called “viewability rule,” a regulation requiring cable operators to ensure that their customers have access to all local TV signals.

Millions of cable TV subscribers may have to buy or lease new converter boxes to continue watching some local stations in the wake of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit's refusal to intervene in an appeal of the FCC ruling.

As it stands, the viewability regulation is slated to expire December 12.

The regulation, which ensures that cable’s subscribers had access to smaller stations in their markets — usually the independent, religious and foreign-language stations in their communities — was originally supposed to be phased out in June.

But in the wake of a major lobbying effort by broadcasters, the FCC agreed to extend the regulation for six months — through December 12.

Also read: Consumer Watchdog Urges FCC to Preserve Viewability Rule

Broadcasters, led by the National Association of Broadcasters, had appealed the ruling, and  asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block the phase-out of the regulations, at least until after the court had considered the broadcast industry’s case.

But in a terse ruling Monday, the court, according to an NAB spokesperson, said the broadcasters hadn’t “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”

Without the rule, cable’s analog TV subscribers will have to get digital-to-analog converter boxes to continue receiving the smaller station TV signals — the so-called “must-carry” TV stations — in their markets.

About 12.6 million cable households are still equipped with analog TV sets—out of a total of about 58 million cable subscribers. Unless those subscribers lease or buy digital-to-analog converter boxes from their cable operators, they will lose access to the must-carry signals after December 12.

Also read: Broadcasters to FCC: Don't Let Cable Systems Drop Local Must-Carry Signals

In a statement to TheWrap, the NAB said it remained “concerned that the FCC decision has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America.”

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which favored elimination of the rule, had no comment, according to a spokesman.