Eshoo Introduces Retrans Bill

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, officially introduced Thursday her retransmission consent legislation, The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act.

Eshoo circulated a draft of the bill in September, to the applause of The American Television Alliance, whose members include the American Cable Association, Time Warner Cable, Dish and DirecTV, which has been pushing for retrans reforms.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would prevent retrans blackouts, remove the must-buy status of retrans stations on cable systems, unbundle owned or affected cable nets from TV stations in retrans deals, and more.

"During the three months since I released draft legislation – the message from individuals, communications companies and consumer groups has been abundantly clear: our video laws are in need of reform," Eshoo said. "My bill would put an end to broadcast television blackouts and ensure consumers aren't held hostage by a dispute they have no control over. Recurring TV blackouts coupled with the rising cost of broadcast television programming has left consumers frustrated and looking to Congress and the FCC for answers."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has been keeping its cards close to the vest on retrans, said Eshoo's bill was particularly welcome. “The bills introduced today by Reps. Eshoo and [Steve] Scalise are very different, but each independently highlights what is quickly becoming a growing consensus – namely, that laws enacted over twenty years ago are out of sync with the realities of today’s video marketplace and in many cases serve to inhibit innovation, thwart fair competition, and harm consumers," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell. "In particular, we welcome an examination of a retransmission consent regime that is increasingly fractured and in need of some repair. We look forward to working with these members, and all members of the committee, as Congress considers responsible reforms.”

"Representative Eshoo's Video CHOICE bill puts forward a number of creative ideas that, if implemented, would move the video marketplace in a good direction," said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge. "[U]nder the provisions of this bill, not only would viewers be protected from the effects of corporate contract disputes that black out channels from their TV lineups, but they would get more choice in what channels they subscribe to, and could see their monthly fees go down."

"ACA applauds Reps. Eshoo and Lofgren for introducing a bill that will provide relief to consumers harmed by outdated retransmission consent rules that broadcasters' relentlessly abuse, highlighted by a record number of TV signal blackouts and escalating price demands well in excess of inflation," the group said in a statement. "Retransmission consent was created by law, and ACA respects these lawmakers' judgment that consumers should have the right to receive cable television service without also being forced to purchase the broadcast stations that elect retransmission consent."

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.