WASHINGTON — The nation's broadcasters and cable television operators reached agreement Thursday on a compromise plan that would require cable systems to set aside about one-fourth of their capacity to carry local over-the-air TV channels.
The landmark plan comes after a federal court last July threw out 20-year-old Federal Communications Commission rules that forced cable systems to carry local broadcast channels. It stands a good chance of being adopted by the FCC.
Since the court decision, there have been no rules requiring cable systems to carry the broadcast channels, even in areas where viewers were unable to pick up TV signals with ordinary antennas, although most cable systems have continued to carry the stations.
Officials of the National Cable Television Assn. and the National Assn. of Broadcasters have been briefing FCC Chairman Mark Fowler and other commissioners on the plan during the past week.
Complete details of the agreement were not immediately available, but industry sources said the plan would, among other things, require cable systems to allocate about 25% of their channels for the broadcast stations.
Spokesmen for both groups said the agreement was to meet the court's criteria of balancing First Amendment concerns with public policy concerns. They said they think Congress also will be satisfied with the plan.
After the court overturned FCC must-carry rules and the Supreme Court denied a stay of the decision, the agency started work on issuing new rules.
In comments filed with the commission, the cable group has said that a requirement to carry all the local signals would, in some instances, use up too much of a cable system's capacity and interfere with its First Amendment rights to program as they please.
The broadcasters, meanwhile, have argued that if local signals are not carried, it might be a violation of the Communications Act because many cable subscribers are unable to pick up regular TV.