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Boyers to Hill: Intervention in Retrans is, Unfortunately, Needed

Patricia Jo Boyers, president of BOYCOM VISION, said she doesn't want the government in her business, but suggested she has no choice to to ask it to step in.

That is according to her prepared testimony (opens in new tab) for a House Communications Subcommittee hearing June 4 on the STELAR satellite compulsory license legislation that must be renewed by year's end or it will expire.

Boyers, vice chairman of ACA Connects, which represents small and midsized operators, said that market solutions have been no match for large broadcasters who she said won't deal with small cable operator buying groups.

She said at the hearing they would hear from witnesses who will tell them "how great it is to watch Game of Thrones on your smart phone, or to binge watch the latest drama from Netflix on your tablet, or to be able to watch the Boston Red Sox every night when you live in Los Angeles. And all these things really are great for many Americans. But things look a little different in communities like mine."

From her small-system vantage, what isn't great is the retrans system and the escalating prices for carriage that gives her less money to provide the broadband for all that over-the-top programming and the forced bundling that means she has to deliver programming her subs don't want.

She said the situation has only gotten worse and counted the ways: "First, individual broadcasters now control multiple 'top-four' network feeds in more than a hundred local markets–and sometimes control three or even four such feeds–despite FCC rules that are supposed to prevent this kind of anti-consumer consolidation. Second, broadcasters have gotten much bigger nationally, with behemoths like Sinclair and Nexstar controlling more than one hundred stations across the country. Third, broadcasters increasingly bundle other “marquee” programming networks with their signals – raising consumer prices for both. This means that broadcasters have more market power than ever before, and certainly more than Congress expected, and cable subscribers pay the price."

Among the big issues cable operators have with broadcasters' leverage in retrans negotiations (the first example above) is that they can skirt limits on owning network affiliates in those smaller markets by programming digital subchannels, which don't count against ownership limits.

"Congress should consider approaches like the prior “Local Choice” proposal, Rep. [Anna] Eshoo’s Video CHOICE Act, and Rep. [Steve] Scalise’s Next Generation TV Marketplace Act," she said.

Boyers also said she was open to other suggestions, but that Congress has to do something.

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.