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ACA: FCC Should Reject Broadcaster-Backed Retrans Changes

The American Cable Association is pushing back on broadcaster efforts to modify the retransmission consent regime.

That came in comments to the FCC earlier this month on its ongoing review of media regulations. The commission, under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, has launched a review of all media regs just as it periodically has done for telecom regs.

ACA cited the initial comments of CBS, Disney, 21st Century Fox and Univision in the proceeding that the FCC should allow broadcasters to notify MVPDs of their retrans or must-carry elections via electronic notification rather than certified mail and not require that they place that election in their online FCC public inspection file. State broadcast associations also asked for that same change.

In addition, ACA opposes Nexstar's suggestion that the default election be switched from must-carry to retransmission consent. That means that unless a broadcaster specifically said otherwise, an MVPD could assume it was going to seek compensation rather than elect mandatory carriage without compensation.

"ACA believes the rules provide key legal protections that would be weakened by the "reforms" advocated by these TV station interests," ACA said.

"Allowing stations to utilize the internet to accomplish both public notices (such as those required for transfer and assignment applications) and private notices (such as must-carry elections) would allow stations to convey information between licensees, cable and satellite TV operators, the Commission, and the public more quickly, more efficiently, and at lower cost," the state associations told the FCC.

"[A] broadcast station's election of retransmission consent or must carry triggers legal consequences for cable operators and broadcasters alike," said ACA. "Whether a broadcaster elects retransmission consent or must carry - and the cable operators' ensuing obligation for carriage of those signals or negotiation for carriage - is too significant for the parties involved not to be delivered via certified mail, which is a proven and reliable method."

"[T]he Commission would simplify retransmission consent elections (and make them consistent with the regime for satellite must carry) by making retransmission consent, not must carry, the default if no election is made," Nexstar said in its initial comments, though in its reply comments it said the FCC should otherwise "reject calls to address retransmission consent in this proceeding."

ACA said of reversing the election presumption: "With a change in the default election, a broadcaster that does not provide notice on time would forfeit its must carry rights and be forced to expend administrative and financial resources to negotiate and sign a contract expressly to grant retransmission consent in order to maintain carriage on a cable operator's system."

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.