ACA Summit: Eshoo Calls Retrans a Menacing 'Racket' and 'Out of Whack'

Washington -- Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) didn't hold back her thoughts on retrans at the American Cable Association's annual summit.

“I think it’s a racket” that consumers find “menacing,” she said during her lengthy exhortation about retransmission consent and related issues at the free-wheeling opening session before ACA members here.

“This is not a sustainable business plan,” Eshoo continued. “We know that this thing is completely out of whack.”  She acknowledged that there is “serious money on the table” which makes “people find it menacing” to make decisions.

“Consumers are screwed and tattooed” by the current system, Eshoo said, later apologizing for her blunt language.  She added that “small businesses cannot absorb these costs … and it is so unfair to consumers.”

The ranking Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee also said she hopes that broadcaster blackouts – which she is seeking to end via her proposed Video Choice Act – may be curtailed this year as the Senate considers STELA reauthorization. 

“I tried like hell to get it into STELA,” she said. Eshoo believes that the Senate review of STELA, which began this week, may open the door to a blackout discussion when the bill comes to a conference committee later this year.

She said that her subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) wants to postpone consideration of retransmission consent and blackouts until a larger Telecommunications Act revision is examined next year.

“I think that’s putting it off too long,” Eshoo said.

During a 40-minute on-stage interview with ACA chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah, the chair, CEO of WOW! Internet Cable Phone, Eshoo said that she expects that any Telecom Act revision will take a long time, reflecting that she was new to the committee when the 1996 Act was deliberated.

“There has to be a rebalancing of the law,” Eshoo said.  “Much of the law was written to promote localism, but you see so many trends today moving against that.” The Silicon Valley congresswoman observed that when she entered the House, “Google wasn’t born… the satellite industry was in its infancy.”

“Things have changed enormously,” Eshoo said.

As for network neutrality, Eshoo – a strong supporter of the policy – called any plans to charge for special access “alarming.”

“We take all the features of the Internet for granted,” she said. “We have to pull the emergency alarm” to assure that some providers cannot “withhold…their favorite content.”

Eshoo joined the cheering squad for expanded WiFi and use of unlicensed spectrum. 

“My hope is that there will be a healthy portion of the spectrum” designated for unlicensed use,” she said.

“It’s a platform for innovation,” she said, tossing in a “thank you” to ACA for “being front and center” to support such uses. 

Eshoo also weighed in on plans to establish new Internet taxation.

“That’s dead wrong,” she said. Congress “has to be a better partner with local and state governments” to find new revenue sources,” but this is not the way.”