Broadcasters, DBS Battle at FCC Over Carriage Election 'Burdens'

Broadcasters and satellite operators are at odds over who would be burdening whom under a new carriage election proposal the FCC is pondering.

The National Association of Broadcasters and NCTA-The Internet and Television Association have joined in proposing changes to the carriage election--must carry or retrans--process, which the FCC is looking to streamline as part of FCC chair Ajit Pai's deregulatory weed-whacking initiative.

The FCC sought comment on the NAB/NCTA proposal by January, but as with a number of dockets, the deadline was delayed by the government shutdown and reply comments have been coming in this week.

Related: ACA Seeks Tweak of Election Carriage Compromise

Under the joint plan, "a commercial broadcast TV station would be required to send notice of its must carry or retransmission consent election to a cable operator only if the station changed its election status from its previous election. In those cases, the broadcaster would send its notice to an email address listed in the cable operator’s online public file or in the FCC’s Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS) database, for cable operators that do not have an online public file."

NAB wants the changes to apply to all MVPDS, cable and satellite, while satellite providers say they were not consulted on the deal with NCTA and argue that the status quo should remain when it comes to satellite carriage elections.

Satellite operators Dish and DirecTV also took a shot at their cable competitors in arguing for why broadcasters should still have to send election notices by snail mail rather than e-mail.

"Broadcasters are familiar with where to mail their mandatory carriage election letters to these two providers, as this information has remained stable over the years," they said. "This stability is in stark contrast to changing cable system information as cable operators continue to consolidate."

And as to why broadcasters having to hoof it to the Post Office is a heavy lift, the satellite operators said they didn't know. "[N]o party has explained – or even attempted to explain – how mailing, at most, two letters once every three years (in exchange for free carriage on DBS providers’ systems) is burdensome.... The benefit to DBS providers of maintaining the status quo regarding triennial election notices for mandatory carriage far outweighs any slight inconvenience of mailing one letter during a three-year period to obtain valuable carriage on a DBS platform."

Broadcasters had their own take on the "burdens" of their ask for e-mail elections from satellite operators.

"It strains credulity for companies with market capitalizations of $222.25 billion (AT&T, which owns DirecTV) and $14.87 billion (Dish) to claim they are unable to manage one email address and one phone number. These companies process payments via the internet totaling billions of dollars and manage customer questions through their email addresses, chat systems, Facebook pages and Twitter handles with no problem. NAB has every confidence these corporate giants can make an e-mail address work properly."

It will be up to the FCC to decide whether that DBS snail mail requirement is a weed that needs whacking. 

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.