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COMPTEL Seeks Senate Video Hearing

Competitive telecom carriers, including NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and COMPTEL, have asked Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) to hold a hearing looking into the video marketplace, specifically what they say are failures that need addressing, including a revamp of the retransmission consent regime that allows broadcasters a programming "stranglehold."

The groups argue that access to video is directly related to the issue of broadband deployment, which is the prime directive of communications policy these days.

"[T]he retransmission consent regime is more than twenty years old and reflects an era with very different marketplace realities," they said in a letter to Thune. "This regime gives broadcast stations a stranglehold over access to programming and prevents providers from negotiating market-based rates for programming. As a result, consumers face blackouts of channels and ever escalating video costs." 

They also want the committee to look at program tying and bundling, which they have long argued "impede the ability of consumers to avail themselves of alternative choices."

They are likely preaching to the choir, at least when it comes to holding a hearing. Senate Commerce is widely expected to take the lead on video competition issues in a planned bicameral review of communications law with an eye toward updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act. There has been talk around Washington of a July video hearing.

Thune has already shown his interest in a retrans remake. Along with former Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), he proposed a Local Choice plan that would have made allowed subs to negotiate directly with broadcasters over whether or not they wanted to pay the per-sub fee for carriage of retrans stations.

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.