High-def channels consume bandwidth like Britney Spears at a Frappuccino trough (props, last night's South Park). That's a problem for twinkly satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV, who just don't have the capacity to blast every channel in HD—so the FCC just gave them the nod to downcovert broadcasters' HD signals until 2013. Basically, it means that just because a channel is broadcast in HD, they don't have to give it to you in HD.
In 2010, they'll have to have full HD carriage—"carry one, carry all in HD"—in 15 percent of markets where they offer HD, creeping to 30 percent the next year, 60 the next, and finally 100 percent of their HD markets in 2013. Since the FCC didn't tell them which markets the rollout would have to hit, people out in the sticks are going to be stuck with sub-HD signals on some channels for the longest, since the competition out there is softer than stiff.
Suckier still, if a digital station "demands HD carriage," then Dish and DirecTV don't have to offer it in standard def to people without HD boxes. Cable on the other hand, got none of these concessions from the FCC, so while it might be harder on them, it's better for us, at least on the surface. [Multichannel, Image via Flickr]