ATVA Members Use Broadband Blackout To Push For FCC Action

The American Television Alliance, as well as individual members including Public Knowledge and the American Cable Association, are asking the FCC to step into the retrans fight between CBS and ATVA member Time Warner Cable.

In separate statements, all said it was time for the FCC to act "immediately" to end the blackout, particularly given CBS' decision not to allow TWC broadband sub access to CBS online programming, which includes customers of Dish and DirecTV, which have carriage deals with CBS.

"CBS’ Internet blackout affects subscribers of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks broadband services, some of whom don’t even use Time Warner Cable or Bright House for pay-TV service," said ATVA.

Public Knowledge's Harold Feld said that the FCC could act under its existing retrans authority as well as its authority to protect the public interest.

“CBS, by blocking all Time Warner Cable broadband subscribers in every market, regardless of whether or not they subscribe to Time Warner Cable’s video services, has crossed the line from hardball tactics to outright abuse of consumers. It's unacceptable that CBS, or any company, should block access to web sites or web content because of a commercial dispute they have with a cable company," said Public Knowledge SVP Feld in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the American Cable Association, also an ATVA member, called on the FCC to step in.

“If Time Warner Cable is a customer’s Internet service provider, then their access to CBS full episode content via online and mobile platforms has been suspended as a result of Time Warner Cable’s decision to drop CBS and Showtime from their market,” CBS said in a statement. “As soon as CBS is restored on Time Warner Cable systems in affected markets, that content will be accessible again.”

The FCC has been reluctant to get in the middle of retrans fights, monitoring from the sideline and urging swift resolution in the interest of consumers is about as far as it has gone absent further direction from Congress. Broadcasters are OK with that laissez-faire approach, while cable operators argue that is laissez-unfair because it because the FCC has its thumb on the scale through the must-carry-retrans regime, syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules. Cable ops argue the FCC could do more under its existing authority to enforce reasonable retrans negotiations and under the public interest standard, as Feld argues.

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.