Wheeler: Retransmission practices were “perverting” congressional intent


Tom WheelerFCC Chair Tom Wheeler called the FCC’s recent decision to prohibit collusive broadcaster retransmission consent negotiations a “self-evident step.” Wheeler made this and other remarks at the American Cable Association’s 21st Summit.

Wheeler’s FCC on 3/31 approved new regulations prohibiting two or more separately owned top-four broadcasters in the same market from banding to negotiate retransmission consent agreements. The new rules take effect at the end of the month. The FCC has also nixed JSA deals, for the most part, with a vague policy on JSA waivers.

When asked by ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka why Wheeler had so quickly addressed retransmission consent negotiations when other FCC chairs had considered the issue to be “radioactive,” Wheeler said, “It was the eloquence of your arguments,” adding “You got quoted a lot, didn’t you,” in the FCC’s order.

“Retransmission consent is the law of the land,” Wheeler explained. “Congress has spoken, period. The way retrans was being implemented, however, moved it off the concept that Congress had developed, which was one-on-one negotiations.”

Instead broadcasters were getting together to exert collective leverage on the cable operator, Wheeler explained.  “All we said was, ‘Hey, the negotiating table has to be level.’ Congress said there is retrans. Congress said it is one-on-one. Let’s make sure that’s the way things work.”

“I think it was a self-evident step,” Wheeler added. “Things had developed that were perverting the goals that Congress had laid out for retransmission and were having an impact on consumers.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Wheeler was definitely amongst his peers at ACA, and spoke to a very grateful audience. Earlier in his career, Wheeler served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), and later as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). In late March of 2013, more than two dozen public interest groups wrote to President Obama expressing alarm that the president was considering a candidate “who was the head of not one but two major industry lobbying groups,” noted a Time Magazine story. As we were recently told, “Broadcasters are sitting across the table from one, maybe two, and rarely three MVPD’s – consolidation continues in the cable space, but the Commission, while saying it is leveling the playing field, is actually, in our view, tilting it towards the MVPD’s.”

It should be interesting to gauge audience reaction at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, where there will be plenty of broadcast TV station owners and brokers. Wheeler will provide the FCC Keynote at the show Tuesday, April 8, 9:00-10:00 a.m. There’s an AM/PM Mini Mart right next to the Convention Center at 2955 Paradise Rd. We hear they sell eggs by the carton.

PS. One broker tells us: “I think they will sell eggs by the TRUCK LOAD!!!!!!!!!!!!”