Low Power Power?

A proposal being floated by Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin could have positive impact on at least two small local TV stations.

Multichannel News reports that Martin is pushing for an October 15th vote on the first phase of a plan – requesting public comment – to get low-power “Class A” stations must-carry status on cable systems:

Martin’s plan would allow 555 Class A TV stations to apply for full-power status from the FCC. After obtaining approval, the stations could demand immediate cable carriage under a 1992 law held constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1997.

Locally, that would definitely affect one TV outlet – Media-Com’s WAOH-LP/29 Akron-W35AX Cleveland, otherwise known as “The CAT”. The station already has negotiated cable carriage with Time Warner Cable’s Akron-based system, on position 14, and has scattered other cable coverage on TWC and other systems (WOW Cable, for example).

But it remains absent from the former Cleveland Adelphia system now a part of Time Warner’s Northeast Ohio footprint – a large chunk of the Cleveland-area viewership.

Assuming this proposal by the FCC chief ever sees the light of day, the devil’s in the details.

For one, what does “apply for full-power status” mean? And would it require WAOH/W35AX to improve facilities at all, if it wishes to assert carriage on the cable systems not already carrying the station?

And the area’s other major low-power TV operation is Image Video’s WIVM-LP/52 Canton-WIVN-LP 29 Newcomerstown(/Dover/New Philadelphia).

Unless we’re reading the FCC records wrong, WIVM/WIVN do not actually have Class A status, and are listed as standard TV translators. If they wish to assert must-carry on cable under this plan, again, assuming it becomes policy, they’d have to file to become Class A stations.

(Despite the calls, WAOH-LP and W35AX are Class A stations.)

Since one of the big hurdles to Class A status for LPTVers is original, local programming…the Image Video outlets should have no problem meeting that standard. Their daily morning simulcast of WHBC/1480’s morning drive show, along with extensive high school football coverage, should cover those guidelines with no problem.

Like Media-Com’s “The CAT”, WIVM/WIVN do have some local cable carriage…on the digital side of TWC’s Canton system (365, up there with the local TV outlets’ digital subchannels), and the high-analog reaches (99) of the former Adelphia (now TWC) system in Tuscarawas County.

We also don’t know if the FCC chairman’s plans or the FCC’s “must-carry” rules would require cable companies to carry the converted Class A stations in basic tiers, not requiring digital converters.

And like the Multichannel News folks, we don’t know if the change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January will affect Martin’s status as FCC commissioner…thus, possibly, affecting this plan.

And it’s not stations like “The CAT” or WIVM that Martin mentions when talking about his proposal. According to Multichannel News, the FCC says 43% of Class A outlets are Spanish-language:

“I think it’s an important opportunity…to help to try provide opportunities for diverse broadcasters to be able to provide service to those Spanish-speaking homes,” Martin told reporters.

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