The owners of Arlington's cable television system are expected to capitulate this week to the Federal Communication Commission's order to "make room" for the Northern Virginia-based Channel 56 on the system.
An FCC panel, acting months before it was expected to, last week informed Arlington Telecommunications Inc. (Artec) that it had denied Artec's request for a waiver of the FCC's "must-carry" rules requiring cable systems to broadcast locally originated signals if the local station requests such action, as Channel 56 did.
"The FCC seems very interested in community interest," said Wayne Vowell, Artec's marketing director. "I don't know if the climate is correct even to fight the issue. And, based on what we've received (from the FCC), we have every intention of complying."
The four-month-old Channel 56 (WNVC), a public-education station, is scheduled to feature year-round reports on the Virginia legislature and public-affairs programing aimed at viewers living inside the Beltway. Before the Fairfax County-based station opened, such programming was a staple of its sister station, Channel 53 (WNVT), also a public station with a format now aimed more to daytime school needs and news for those living outside the Beltway. Vowell said Artec is also seeking a waiver on Channel 53, but now doubts that challenge will be successful.
FCC spokesman William A. Russell said last week's order gives Artec until Oct. 6 to put Channel 56 on the system unless Artec seeks a stay of the order. Artec also has 30 days to appeal the decision of the FCC's mass-media bureau, which denied the waiver, to the full commission, Russell said.
Artec officials, who are in the midst of a proposed sale of the franchise, fought the requirement to put 56 on the system, arguing that the station could be picked up on conventional television. They also contended that much of 56's daytime programming duplicates that available on other cable channels, most notably gavel-to-gavel coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Artec, which carries Channel 53, also pointed out that it carries three other public broadcasting stations on the 35-channel system, including one out of Maryland, and is cramped for channel space to meet viewer interests.
But, the FCC's Russell pointed out last week, Artec carries five Maryland channels. The FCC, he said, considers those stations, three of which duplicate network stations here, "discretionary" and "secondary" in interest to Northern Virginians.
"They're just going to have to make room" for 56, Russell said.
"Obviously we're going to have to drop something and it looks like we're going to have to zero in on some Baltimore channel," Artec's Vowell said, adding no decision has been made on which one may go.