Oddly enough, I just got a response to an email I sent to the FCC long ago...I explained the basics of our local cable market and asked specific questions. Here are the answers given. The first one is probably the most interesting. Haven't had time to study all the words yet. The responder also prefaced my specific questions with the comment that...
If a cable company makes the business decision to go all-digital (meaning it will stop offering any channels to its customers in analog), it must ensure that its analog customers can continue to watch their local broadcast stations. This is all that is required by the FCC.
1. Does the cable company *have* to carry the high-def versions in the clear via QAM?
Does the contractual arrangements they may or may not have with the individual affiliates influence that answer in any way?
Yes, stations that declare "must carry" must be carried in analog on a cable system that is not all digital to ensure their viewability. "Retransmission consent" stations may be carried in any manner that comports with the private agreements of the parties.
2. Do they have to carry the standard definition versions as well, or can they choose one version of each channel to carry?
If your cable company is providing the local channels in analog, it will only be viewed in standard definition in the "basic tier". If is offers the same local channel signals in its "digital tier" it will offer the channel digitally, but must retransmit the programming as it is transmitted by the station, whether standard or high definition. The signals may be scrambled to eliminate theft of service.
3. The CW channel isn't offered in high-def, but it is a digital sub-channel to one of the other networks. Should that version be available via Clear QAM if the others need to be as well?
No, if your cable company is offering a "basic tier" for your local channels, it will be viewed in analog standard definition on that tier. The local CW channel may have opted for retransmission consent to be placed in the digital tier in standard definition per agreement with the cable company.