ACA to FCC: Preventing Blackouts Is Job One

The American Cable Association wants the FCC to act on retrans reforms before most of its smaller cable op members have to start negotiating new three-year retrans deals starting in October of this year. Key to those reforms, says ACA, is allowing cable operators to import out-of-market signals during retrans blackouts.

"It is axiomatic that MVPD subscribers should no longer be held hostage and subjected to broadcaster blackouts during retransmission consent negotiating impasses," ACA told the commission.

That came in comments to the FCC on further reforms of its retransmission consent rules. The FCC has already voted to prevent coordinated retransmission consent negotiations between top-four non-commonly owned TV stations in a market.

ACA wants the FCC to prevent all third-party participation in retrans negotiations, including preventing a network from "interfering" with the ability of a station to grant out-of-market retransmission consent.

The FCC has asked whether it should get rid of its network exclusivity rules. Those rules are essentially a backstop to network contracts granting stations exclusive rights to network programing in defined geographic areas. They prevent cable operators from carrying duplicate programming.

ACA cautions the FCC that the rules not only protect stations, but also limit the geography where exclusivity can be enforced. "[T]he Commission must consider what is gained and what is lost with respect to both of these purposes," ACA said.

"To the extent the Commission is contemplating eliminating its exclusivity rules, it must ensure that networks cannot interfere with the ability of MVPDs to secure retransmission consent from an out-of-market station, especially to protect subscribers from losing access to network programming during retransmission consent impasses."

Robert Kenny, spokesman for, the broadcaster-backed group fighting retrans changes, disagreed that preventing blackouts should be the focus of government action.

"The American Cable Association again is missing the point," he said. "Job number one for lawmakers and policymakers is protecting the American consumer; and as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill reminded us earlier this week, cable and satellite TV providers need to be more transparent and up front about what is driving up their customers monthly bills more than double the rate of inflation and begin to fix it. Pay-TV providers should be part of the solution by implementing protocols to better identify and self-correct customer billing errors and re-assess just how much they need to charge customers each month to rent set-top boxes as part of their service. Should pay-TV consumers across America really be paying multi-billions of dollars in equipment rental fees to cable and satellite TV providers year after year?"

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.