A group of cable operators has asked the FCC to step in and mandate that no TV stations be pulled from cable systems during the months around the February 2009 DTV transition date, even if cable operators and stations can’t come to terms on carriage agreements.
Mediacom Communications, along with Charter Communications, Insight, GCI, Suddenlink and Cequel Communications, has filed a petition asking the FCC “to promptly adopt a retransmission consent ‘quiet period’ to ensure that private commercial disputes in the months surrounding the February 17, 2009 digital transition do not unnecessarily trigger consumer confusion or service disruptions at a time when the American public is most dependent on the cable industry’s delivery of broadcast signals."
That’s according to a copy of testimony slated to be delivered Wednesday by Edward Pardini, senior VP of Mediacom Communications, at a House Small Business Committee hearing on the DTV transition. (Click here for a PDF of the testimony.)
The comments are part of an effort by the American Cable Association (ACA), which represents smaller cable operators, to get legislators to investigate the entire retransmission-consent regime, which it says is discriminatory, skewed in favor of broadcasters, and a threat to a smooth DTV transition.
The FCC has decided to require cable operators to deliver a viewable must-carry station to subscribers after the digital transition.
Broadcasters can either elect must-carry, which means cable operators have to carry their station but don't have to pay for it, or they can choose to negotiate terms but with no requirement of carriage if the negotiations fail. Owners of stronger TV stations opt for retransmission consent because their stations are must-have programming in a local TV market.
"If the commission does not act," the testimony states, "there is a real possibility that private commercial disputes over retransmission consent terms will require cable operators to drop broadcast signals at the very time that the government and the public are most dependent on cable's delivery of those signals.” The proposed "quiet period" would expire May 31, 2009.
Together the petitioners represent more than 8.5 million customers.
ACA argues that broadcasters have too much leverage in their negotiations with smaller cable operators and wants legislators to both investigate the process and closely monitor negotiations in their local communities.
In a response to the petition, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said: “NAB is reviewing the petition and will discuss it with our Executive Committee, but we generally do not get involved with private marketplace negotiations between cable operators and broadcasters.”
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