DeMint, Scalise Propose Sweeping Away Retrans Regime, Ownership Regs

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have introduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act in both the House and Senate, the sweeping and unlikely-to-pass legislation would throw out the retrans regime and and local ownership rules.

That deregulatory chain saw is aimed at clearing out "decades-old" regs they argue represent the government inappropriately picking winners and losers.

"The laws and rules governing video services were largely written decades ago, and do not reflect the tremendous technological advancements, dramatic growth of competition, and rapidly changing consumer behavior of the 21st Century," said DeMint in a statement. "If we want to encourage innovation, job creation, and consumer benefits, we need to stop issuing new regulations and instead remove and modernize rules written to address the last century's business and regulatory models." 

Specifically the bill would:

- Repeal those provisions of the Communications Act that mandate the carriage and purchase of certain broadcast signals by cable operators, satellite providers, and their customers. 

- Repeal the Communications Act's "retransmission consent" provisions and the Copyright Act's "compulsory license" provisions, thereby allowing negotiations for the carriage of broadcast stations to take place in the same deregulated environment as negotiations for carriage of non-broadcast channels such as Discovery, Food Network, and AMC.

- Repeal ownership limitations imposed on local media operators, allowing businesses to evolve and adapt to today's dynamic communications market.

The American Television Alliance, which has been pushing for major retrans reform, called it a constructive step foward.

"[ATVA] commends Rep. Steve Scalise and Senator Jim DeMint for introducing companion bills to reform the rules and regulations that govern the television marketplace.  The past few decades have brought tremendous changes to how consumers view broadcast programming, how it is marketed and how it is delivered, yet the rules governing the industry have stayed the same for nearly twenty years.  This legislation represents a constructive step forward and ATVA looks forward to working with the sponsors of the legislation and other Members of Congress to make the necessary changes to modernize these rules and protect consumers."

ATVA members include AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, DISH, and DirecTV.

Free Press was not nearly as pleased. "This bill is the worst idea Jim DeMint has had in a long time -- and that's saying a lot," said Free Press President Craig Aaron. "This legislation is a lump of coal that would end competition, diversity and localism, and  would enable media companies to monopolize and distort local news and information."

Like ATVA, the American Cable Association saw the bill as a step toward addressing key issues.  "ACA greatly appreciates that with this legislation, Congress will open a dialogue -- an action long overdue -- on reforming communications laws and regulations that have sat around far too long and failed to keep pace with changes in the market," said ACA President Matt Polka. "Just as a house will develop leaks if the roof is not maintained, laws and regulations need to be updated periodically to ensure they don't inflict harm on consumers."

Braodcasters are no fans of local ownership rules, but if the price of removing them is to strip away the must-carry, rerans regime, no thanks.

"NAB respectfully opposes the legislation," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Current law ensures access to quality local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings. The proposed changes to the Communications Act strike at the core of free market negotiations and broadcast localism, thereby threatening a community-based information and entertainment medium that serves tens of millions of Americans each day."

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.