FCC opens docket on retransmission change requests


The request from 14 cable companies and organizations for the FCC to amend the retransmission consent rules has reached the stage of a formal proceeding. Comments are due April 19th.

The petition filed March 9th by Public Knowledge; DirecTV, Inc.; Dish Network LLC; Charter Communications, Inc.; American Cable Association; New America Foundation; OPASTCO; Time Warner Cable Inc.; Verizon; Cablevision Systems Corp.; Mediacom Communications Corp.; Bright House Networks, LLC; Insight Communications Company, Inc.; and Suddenlink Communications, claims that the recent 21-hour withdrawal of WABC-TV New York from Cablevision’s systems and “recurring threats of blackouts, high-stakes public ‘showdown’ negotiations, and recent economic analyses have all confirmed what programming distributors have known for years: the retransmission consent regime is broken.”

The cable/satellite companies and their supporters claim that the retrans regulations created nearly 20 years ago “are outdated and causing consumer harm.”

The cable/satellite companies want the FCC to create new rules to ensure that the retransmission rates paid to broadcasters are “reasonable.” They want the FCC to create a mandatory arbitration process which would kick in any time a cable/satellite company declared an impasse. “To trigger such a dispute resolution proceeding, the MVPD [Multichannel Video Programming Distributor] would need only show that negotiations had broken down and that the parties could not agree on price or other terms and conditions of carriage; an affirmative showing of ‘bad faith’ on the part of the broadcaster should not be necessary,” the petition argued.

Removing any threat of broadcast signals being pulled, the petitioners want the FCC to mandate interim carriage while and MVPD negotiates in good faith or while a retransmission consent dispute is pending.

The petitioners claim the FCC has the authority to enact such new rules on its own – a position sure to be challenged by broadcasters, who will insist that such authority resides exclusively with the Congress of the United States, which would have to amend the 1992 law.

“The petition argues that the Commission’s current retransmission consent rules do not account for changes in the video programming distribution market, and it proposes reforms including dispute resolution mechanisms and mandatory interim carriage.  We seek comment on this petition,” the FCC said Friday in announcing that the Media bureau had opened a Docket, No. 10-71, to seek comments on the petition. Comments are due April 19th, with reply comments due May 4th.

RBR-TVBR observation: If this weren’t an actual government proceeding, it would be laughable that the cable giants are claiming to be abused by comparatively tiny broadcast companies. As we’ve stated previously, the retransmission consent system is working exactly the way it is supposed to and needs no changes. The MSOs are just longing for the bad old days when they were able to bully the broadcasters.