Eshoo Issues Retrans Bill Draft

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) Monday released
a draft of retransmission consent legislation in advance of a hearing this week
dealing with that and other video regulation issues.

The bill, The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing

  • "Gives the FCC explicit statutory
    authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a
    retransmission consent negotiation impasse.\
  • "Ensures that a consumer can purchase
    cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing
    retransmission consent.
  • "Prohibits a television broadcast
    station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiations from making their
    owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast
  • "Instructs the FCC to examine whether
    the blocking of a television broadcast station's owned or affiliated online
    content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to
    negotiate in "good faith."
  • "Calls for an FCC study of programming
    costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports

Eshoo is the ranking member of the House
Communications Subcommittee, which is holding a hearing Sept. 11 on video regulation that is expected
to feature retrans and satellite licensing issues, tied to the 2014 expiration
of the

Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA). Also
expiring as part of that bill, unless Congress renews it, is the FCC's authority
to enforce retransmission consent good faith negotiations.

Distributors--cable and satellite operators--have been pushing
the FCC to use more muscle in enforcing good faith, including blocking
blackouts and perhaps requiring third-party arbitration of impasses.

The bill comes as little surprise. Last month, during the
recently resolved CBS/Time Warner Cable retrans blackout, Eshoo, a
long-standing retrans blackout critic, signaled that she "intend[ed] to
carefully examine whether changes to current law are needed to adequately
protect consumers and prevent the reoccurrence of blackouts."

Broadcasters argue that blackouts are rare, and are part of a
marketplace negotiation that should not include FCC intervention. Distributors
point to must-carry, network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules
and say those are a government thumb on the scale that makes it far from
a free-market negotiation.

"We applaud Ranking Member Eshoo for her leadership and her legislation to address the myriad problems with our retransmission consent system," said The American Television Alliance, whose members include the American Cable Association, Time Warner Cable, Dish and DirecTV. "Her voice is the latest in an ever-growing chorus calling for retrans reform and her bill is a step in the right direction. Consumers continue to be hit with more and more blackouts and we encourage Congress to consider reform immediately. We look forward to working with Ranking Member Eshoo and other members seeking to update our video rules into this century."

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.