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CBS Affils to FCC: You Don't Have Authority To Remake Retrans

Fresh from
retransmission consent discussions with CBS network executives at their
meeting in New York last week,

a half dozen CBS affiliate association executives, including the chair and
vice chair, made a road trip to D.C. this week to make their case to top
FCC staffers in person in a May 25 meeting.
According to
affiliate association counsel Jennifer Johnson in an ex parte
notification at the FCC, Wayne Daugherty, EVP and COO of Raycom Media
and chair of the association and company, told the FCC's Media Bureau chief and staffers that the commission lacks the
authority to adopt changes proposed in a petition by Time Warner and
other top cable operators, satellite and telco companies.
Those proposed changes include independent arbitration and preventing
signals from being pulled during retrans impasses.
They argued
the petition was meant to "thwart" a fair process that is working. They
warned the FCC to look out for cable operators who might decide to drag
their feet to make their point about a process
they argue is broken and in need of fixing. The affiliate execs "noted
that carriers may have an incentive as a result of the pending Petition for Rulemaking to cause an impasse with
broadcasters in order to
advance their call for retransmission consent reform," the filing said.
While they
were there, the affils also registered their concerns about the FCC's
proposal to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters to turn over to wireless
broadband. They said reduced interference protections
resulting from repacking stations as a result of the reclamation would
not be voluntary and "would harm the service local stations are able to
Elsewhere on
the retrans front, broadcasters got some help from Rep. Phil Gingrey
(R-Ga.). In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a copy of which was obtained by
B&C, Gingrey said he wanted to add his
voice to those arguing that the government "does not belong in the role
of arbiter of free market negotiations." He said he was concerned with
the potential harm of a standstill provision in concert with any
government imposed arbitration. He says the likely
result would be that more retrans negotiations "would be dragged out
until the bitter end."
The FCC is
collecting comments as part of an inquiry into what, if anything, need
to be done about the retransmission consent regime. That was prompted in
part by high-profile impasses at the end of
last year that threatened over-the-air delivery of football games and
Oscar moments. FCC Chairman Genachowski has said that the system
may need updating, but it is unclear what, if any, steps the commission
will take.
Gingrey says
the FCC has better things to do than to put on a striped shirt and
start blowing the whistle.
"I know there are many important and timely
matters before the FCC," he says. "[I]t
is my belief that becoming an active referee of market negotiations
across the country would only distract from you
vital mission."
Though Gingrey was not
explicit about those "important and timely matters," broadband is
often the implied prioirity invoked by those looking to dissuade the
FCC from doing things like retrans revamps or network neutrality.