Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) serves with John Kerry (D-MA) on the Senate Commerce Committee, and has agreed to work with Kerry in changing the rules for how retransmission consent negotiations are conducted. He made his announcement after being informed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski as to just how barren the FCC regulatory arsenal is when it comes to stepping into the process. That was before the Cablevision standoff with Fox was settled Saturday evening.
Kerry is chair of Commerce’s subcommittee on communications, and has long been a proponent off fair access to sports programming, occasionally citing his love of being able to follow the Boston Red Sox while serving his constituency in Washington DC, not to mention his interest in consumer protection in general.
Lautenberg’s interest in the issue is more immediate, since his constituents are among the hostages in the ongoing Fox/Cablevision retransmission stalemate.
“For two weeks now, New Jersey cable subscribers have been caught in the crossfire between two corporate giants,” stated Sen. Lautenberg. “This dispute must come to an end immediately, and steps must be taken to stop future blackouts. The FCC has made clear that it needs additional tools to protect consumers in these disputes. I look forward to working with Senator Kerry to update our laws so that consumers are better protected and are no longer ignored when cable companies clash with broadcasters.”
Lautenberg’s staff indicated exactly what the senator likes about the Kerry proposal: “The proposed legislation would require broadcasters and cable operators to keep broadcast television programming on during a ‘cooling off period’ after an impasse between the parties. During that period, the FCC would evaluate whether the parties have been negotiating in good faith and in compliance with the law. In some cases, the FCC could require binding arbitration or force the terms of the dispute to be made public, thus bringing more transparency to the process.”