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Comcast Opposes Hill Action on Retrans Changes

Comcast has told the Senate Commerce Committee that it does not support addressing "issues or concerns" related to the retrans regime as part of reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) or "through other legislative action."

That is according to Comcast executive VP David Cohen's written testimony for a July 16 hearing on the state of the video marketplace. In fact, the heading of the relevant section of testimony puts it even more clearly: "Comcast...does not support changes to the current retransmission consent regime."

When it bought NBCU, Comcast did strike an agreement with its affiliates that it would not actively lobby or in any way seek to change the current retrans regime, which is one reason why it is not in any coalitions advocating for change. Still, Cohen spoke positively about the system.

Cohen said Comcast "generally" supports a "clean" reauthorization of STELA for five years, rather than a shorter period that could cause unnecessary disruption.

After saying Comcast did not support "government intervention" in the wholesale programming business or contractual relationships, he wrote specifically about retrans, painting a picture of a marketplace generally in balance and working.

"We enjoy positive relationships on all sides in retransmission consent negotiations. We have not lost the signal of any major local broadcasters in a dispute over retransmission consent fees."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association last year came off the sidelines to back retrans reforms. Comcast, NCTA's largest member, said it remained aligned with NCTA's public policy approach, but also said it was important to insure that "broadcasters remain incented to make future investments in content."

"Broadcasters and MVPD's have, in the vast majority of cases, succeeded in negotiating retransmission consent agreements that allow for the carriage of broadcast programming to MVPD households across the country," he tells the committee. "We believe that most parties involved in such negotiations will continue to act responsibly and bargain in good faith and in a manner that reflects consumers' best interests."

"Broadcasting continues to be a significant source of programming for tens of millions of households," he says.

Given that when parties do fail to reach an agreement, consumers can, and do, switch to other providers, he says, "the marketplace thus remains the best forum where any disputes can and should be resolved, without further regulatory intervention."

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.