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CEA: Retrans Reforms Should Be in Satellite Bill

The Consumer Electronics Association has asked the leadership of the relevant House and Senate committees to include retransmission consent reforms as part of must-pass legislation reauthorizing the satellite compulsory distant-signal license.

In the letter, CEA president Gary Shapiro said reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act was the right venue for reforming what he said were "outdated" retransmission consent regs.

He put in a plug for cable and satellite operators, saying that MVPDs "have served the broadcasters well. They retransmit the broadcaster programming into the same local market where broadcasters must, as a condition of their broadcasting license, make that programming available for free. As a result of the quality and convenience of cable and satellite retransmissions, more than 93% of American consumers rely on multichannel video providers to receive local TV broadcast stations a dramatic change from 1992, when some 40% of households received their broadcast programming over the air."

He said by contrast, "broadcasters have used the retransmission right to demand retransmission fee increases of several orders of magnitude." He also adds that they have "fought furiously against consumer-empowering technologies such as the DISH Hopper and innovative startup Aereo."

Broadcasters argue those innovative startups are violating copyright and contracts.

Shapiro wants a "few commonsense reforms" including allowing MVPDs to import distant signals during retrans blackouts, and better defining good faith negotiations—the satellite bill also includes renewal of the FCC's authority to enforce good-faith negotiations.

He also wants a prohibition on coordinated retrans negotiations by independent stations in the same market, something cable operators have succeeded in getting into a House Energy & Commerce version of a reauthorization bill.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a "clean" version of the bill—a straight five-year renewal—Thursday, saying it would deal with retrans and other issues elsewhere. A bill must pass by year's end or the license expires.

“If Gary Shapiro and the membership of CEA would like to continue showing strong support for consumers, as they have on a number of recent policy fights in Washington, D.C., then they should drop their frivolous arguments in support of pay-TV-driven ‘reforms’ to the retransmission consent system and refocus their efforts to call on Congress to hold pay-TV companies accountable for their deceptive truth-in-billing practices that are hurting tens of millions of cable and satellite TV customers,” said Robert C. Kenny, spokesman for the broadcaster-backed TVfreedom.