Cable Ops: Show Us the Money

WASHINGTON — Some cable operators and at least one public interest group want broadcasters to prove their market-rate claims when it comes to pricing demands for retransmission of their signals.

Broadcasters should be required to back up pricing with bona fide market data, a group including Mediacom Communications, CenturyLink and Public Knowledge declared in a letter requesting that the Federal Communications Commission look to labor laws and “duty to disclose” obligations to help redefine what constitutes good-faith negotiations.

The letter, sent to Media Bureau chief Bill Lake as the FCC begins its congressionally mandated review of the definition of “good-faith” retransmission- consent negotiations, said the key issue the FCC needs to address is the lack of price transparency in negotiations and that the way to fix that is to require parties to justify their prices by revealing those paid by others in the market.

Given the size of some designated market areas, Mediacom senior vice president Tom Larsen said, that could include satellite companies and large and small cable and phone companies.

“The commission concluded in 2000 that relying on established labor-law precedent governing collective bargaining as a tool for interpreting and applying the good-faith retransmission-consent negotiation requirement was consistent with congressional intent,” they argued, adding the “totality of circumstances” test the FCC is charged to review in the good-faith inquiry comes directly from labor law.

Given that, they said, the FCC should also borrow the concept that negotiating parties have an obligation (“duty to disclose”) to provide evidence substantiating their claims.

The FCC has not required that, but circumstances have changed, and the group wants the FCC to change with them.

“Taking a page from labor law precedent, the commission should require, as part of the totality of the circumstances standard, that the parties negotiating the terms of a retransmission- consent agreement disclose relevant information substantiating and verifying their bargaining claims,” they told Lake.

National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton dismissed the proposal out of hand. “Another day, another ridiculous Mediacom petition,” he told Multichannel News. “The FCC should ignore this disingenuous suggestion from a company famous for its last-place customer service record.”

Also signing on to the letter were Consolidated Communications, FairPoint Communications, NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association, Public Knowledge, and ITTA, which represents mid-sized telecom providers. (ITTA was inadvertently omitted from the list when this story first published. We regret the oversight).

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.