Prompted by his concerns that New York viewers could lose access to the
Academy Awards and other WABC-TV programming, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) has asked
the FCC to step into the retrans fray, citing what he says is a "lack of
oversight over the retransmission consent system [that] has allowed an
increasing number of these disputes."
He called viewers pawns in a game of dividing up millions of
dollars between the two companies. "Sadly, it is no coincidence that this
deadline coincides with the morning of the Oscar broadcast, annually one of the
most-watched programs. Again, the consumer winds up held hostage as a
result," he said.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Engel said
his immediate concern was that the March 6 deadline WABC has given Cablevision,
"whereby a great number of my constituents will lose access to the ABC
But he invoked the December stand-off between Time Warner
and Fox and Sinclair and Mediacom in pointing out that a "previous
dispute" had threatened broadcasts of college bowl games. "This
situation is unacceptable. We cannot continue to allow constituents to be held
hostage during business negotiations over retransmission consent," he
said, echoing complaint by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has also suggested
the retransmission consent system needs fixing.
"I respectfully request that the Federal Communications
Commission investigate the current system and provide a regulatory fix which
will allow broadcasters to receive fair compensation for their product, while
not charging cable and satellite providers or my constituents outrageously high
rates," he said. "The current situation is harmful to cable and
satellite providers, harmful to broadcasters, and most of all, harmful to my
A spokesman for the chairman had no comment. The FCC does
not routinely comment on letters form Congress. The FCC is in contact with
Cablevision and WABC, an FCC source told B&C.
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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.