Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


June 7, 2012

Broadcast industry executives are turning up the heat in their campaign to retain a Federal Communications Commission rule that requires cable-TV operators to ensure that all of their customers have access to local must-carry signals.

Unless it takes action, the FCC's so-called "viewability rule" is set to expire on Tuesday, it's third birthday. The rule ensures that all 58 million cable-TV subscribers have access to local must-carry signals - not just the 46 million who subscribe to digital cable. Eliminating the viewability rule would severely undermine the viewership of independent, religious and foreign-language stations that rely on the regulation to reach all cable viewers, broadcasters say.

The FCC originally adopted the rule in 2007 so that the millions of cable subscribers with analog TV sets could continue getting must-carry station signals after the broadcast TV industry switched from analog to digital transmission. It has required cable operators to either retransmit the must-carry signals in both analog and digital formats or to ensure that all subscribers have the equipment needed to view the signals on their TV sets. The FCC originally set a three-year limit on the rule, assuming that most cable systems would have switched completely to digital by this time. But about 12.6 million cable customers still have analog sets and could lose access to must-carry signals if the rule expires.

Cable-TV industry executives are asking the FCC to let the regulation expire, contending that the rule violates the industry's First Amendment rights by making operators devote channel space they could use for other programming to delivering duplicative signals in analog and digital formats.

Google Inc. unveiled an expansion of its Google Maps and Google Earth services, upping the ante ahead of an anticipated new mapping service from rival Apple Inc.

The search giant said Wednesday it would start showing three-dimensional images for entire metropolitan areas in Google Earth. Up to this point, the service had shown 3-D images only of some buildings. Google said it would eventually also make the more-robust 3-D imagery available on Google Maps and to software developers. In addition, Google said it would soon make Google Maps available on devices that run on its Android mobile operating system, even during times when the device doesn't have an Internet connection because the user has poor wireless reception. Currently, the service works only if the device is connected to a wireless network.

Google's announcements, made at an event in San Francisco Wednesday, come as the Internet search giant and Apple are locked in a battle for smartphone and tablet users and the hundreds of thousands of software developers who make apps for the devices. Maps are considered to be a future battleground, with Apple becoming the newest major entrant. Wednesday's event, which included no major news, appeared aimed at showing how much Google had invested in improving the service over the past seven years and implying that it would be difficult to replicate. Google is currently nearly unchallenged in digital mapping for consumers, and thousands of developers pay the company to incorporate Google Maps into their websites. Google doesn't charge developers for incorporating Google Maps on Android and Apple mobile devices. Many developers use Google Maps to show app users their location on a map and how close they are to their friends and restaurants, for instance.

Apple currently preloads Google Maps on its iPhones and iPads. But Apple has been putting the pieces in place to offer a mapping service of its own and to replace Google Maps as the default mapping service on its devices, people familiar with the matter have said. Apple could preview the new software, which is expected to be part of its next mobile-operating system, as soon as next week at its annual developer conference, one person familiar with the plan has said. Apple plans to encourage app developers to embed its maps inside their applications. "There's a race between Google and Apple to develop the next killer features on their mobile platforms," said Robin Thurston, chief product officer of MapMyFitness Inc., which develops mobile apps that let people track their fitness activities on Google-powered maps and share them with friends. Mr. Thurston said he expects his company will develop a version of its service using Apple's future maps software.

On Wednesday, Google vice president of engineering Brian McClendon declined to directly address Apple's mapping efforts, other than to say Google would continue to work on providing comprehensive mapping service to Apple device users. Android smartphones have one key advantage over the iPhone when it comes to mapping: They have a built-in Google turn-by-turn navigation service that acts like an in-car GPS, while the iPhone doesn't-the result of disagreements between the companies over how such a service would be displayed.

Google product manager Peter Birch said that by the end of the year Google's 3-D coverage, aided by imagery from cameras mounted on Google's own fleet of planes, would extend to areas with a combined population of 300 million people. Google didn't disclose the names of cities for which 3-D imagery would be available but added that the new feature would be made available on Apple mobile devices as well as those powered by Android. Wall Street Journal