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Editorial: Balance the Scales

The handwriting was probably on the wall for the syndicated exclusivity rules and network nonduplication rules from the moment the FCC recently voted to get rid of the sports blackout rules.

Like those rules, the broadcast exclusivity rules backstop contractual relationships, but with one big difference. As Preston Padden was telling whoever would listen last week (we were), those rules are tied to the compulsory license that cable operators got for the broadcast programming they retransmit.

Cable operators have no such blanket license for the cable networks they carry, and Padden has long argued there should be none for broadcasters.

Padden, who helped restore the broadcast exclusivity rules , says if the FCC is going to get rid of the exclusivity rules, Congress needs to scrap the compulsory license.

If the FCC is going to vote to eliminate those rules, as FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed, it appears to be jumping the gun, given how long it would take Congress to follow suit.

The National Association of Broadcasters is currently raising the point about dealing with the rules and the license together, though it’s not clear whether or not that is a way to try and forestall any change, which would be many broadcasters’ preference.

So, either the FCC should hold off, or if it does not, Congress should get on the stick. If Wheeler wants marketplace contracts, not FCC rules, to prevail, then broadcasters should be able to negotiate for the programming in their signals (now covered by a blanket license), not just the signals themselves (currently handled in retrans negotiations).