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Editorial: Some Choice Words

Senate Commerce Committee staffers are pitching what’s called the Local Choice plan for retransmission consent reform as “an evolution of the existing retransmission consent regime to a simpler approach, designed to put more power in the hands of the viewer.”

That sounds good, until we get to the line about controlling the cost of viewers’ pay-TV subscriptions. That’s when it sounds more like “retransmission consent trampling and eviscerating.”

Government-mandated à la carte is not the answer. The marketplace is already driving choice, taking the form of on-demand and over-the-top options.

If you think broadcasters’ rising retrans payments are the full cause of the rise in cable bills, think again. They’re only a fraction; the hikes are driven as much by the price of sports increasingly available only on cable. That would seem another place to look for cost containment— though it should not be government’s role to contain it, no matter how many sports fans complain to Congress.

Our guess is some impetus behind this Hill proposal is legislators tiring of the battle over retrans between cable and broadcast. A few legislators have even made the point publicly in hearings, exasperated at the scorched-earth rhetoric.

Local Choice is being advertised as a possible addition to the Senate Commerce Committee’s version of satellite compulsory license reauthorization. We think it is better to hash out this issue in a larger telecom rewrite, instead of potentially blowing up the must-pass satellite bill with what would turn out to be an 11th-hour bombshell.