What Does “Must Carry” Mean?

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The FCC implemented a rule as directed by Congress essentially saying that if a DBS Carrier (Dish or DirecTV) carry one channel in a certain city (Designated Marketing Area or DMA), they must carry all the stations in that city.  But there are lots of rules that apply to the stations as well.  So not all the channels in a DMA qualify for Must Carry status.

In order for a station to qualify for must carry the following conditions must be met:

  1. The station has to ASK for must carry status within the designated election period as established by the FCC.  If a station does not ask to be included in the local package within the designated time period, the DBS provider is under no obligation to carry the station, though they still may chose to do so.
  2. The station MUST be an FCC licensed full-power station to the DMA in question.  Licensed low power channels and Class A Stations DO NOT qualify for must carry status.  Stations licensed to foreign countries (Canada - “c” stations and Mexico “x” stations) DO NOT qualify for must carry status.
  3. The station may NOT ask for any consideration or compensation in return for allowing the satellite company to carry the channel.  If a station asks for ANYTHING it waives its right for must carry status until the next election period (usually 3 years)
  4. The station may NOT be a repeater or substantially duplicate another channel's programming within the same DMA unless they are in different states.  This means that if there are two channels in the same DMA that mostly show the same programming at the same time and are both in the same state, ONLY ONE has to be carried under the must carry rules.  But if the two stations are in two different states, BOTH have to be carried under the rules if they ask.
  5. The station MUST provide a “good quality” signal to the satellite company's local point of presence (POP).  “Good Quality” is subjective and the FCC has been involved in a few disputes, but if a station's over the air signal is not satisfactory, the TV station must provide their signal via fiber or other conveyance at THEIR expense.
  6. Non-commercial/Educational stations (PBS and EDU) have different but similar rules

Any stations that do not qualify for, or waive must carry status or elect retransmission consent COULD be carried by retransmission consent between the station and the DBS Carrier, but the stations that do not qualify for must carry cannot force the DBS company to carry the station.

What is Retransmission Consent?

Retransmission consent is nothing more than a mutual agreement between the satellite or cable carrier and the broadcast station allowing the carrier to offer the channel to subscribers.  In agreements such as these, anything goes.  It is up to the two parties.  The “Big” stations in any market usually elect to ask the carriers for retransmission consent and force the carriers to pay the station for the privilege to redistribute the signal to the stations market.  Stations that elect retransmission consent cannot force the satellite carriers to carry the channel until the next election cycle rolls around, and, if the station feels it's in its best interest, ask for must carry status.  The News Monitor has a list of stations currently off due to retransmisson consent disputes.