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FCC Chair 'Disappointed' In Retrans Stalemate

On the news that Fox stations were going dark on Cablevision systems as of midnight, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement that he was disappointed, but said the law stated the negotiations were between "private companies," signaling the FCC was not about to get into the middle of that fight. But, he said that both Cablevision and Fox shared the responsibility for protecting consumer's interests.

"Each year, thousands of agreements between broadcasters and pay-TV providers are reached without interruption of customer viewing," he said. "I remain hopeful that these two companies will do what is in the best interest of consumers and find a way quickly to resolve their differences.

"I have and continue to urge Fox and Cablevision to engage in good faith negotiations and to reach an agreement that will end this viewing interruption as quickly as possible," he said.

Genachowski also referenced a consumer advisory, an unusual if not unprecedented move, the FCC had posted on its homepage advising Cablevision subs what to do next. That included telling them they could switch to "AT&T, DIRECTV, DISH Network, RCN (limited areas of Brooklyn), and Verizon FIOS." It also said they could watch over the air, either with a digital TV set or an analog set with a converter box.

The FCC earlier in the day had urged that the signals remain on the air and that the parties submit to outside mediation. Cablevision agreed, having already said it wanted arbitration. Fox countered that that would simply be rewarding Cablevision for not negotiating a fair price.

The American Television Alliance (ATVA), a coalition of cable operators, telcos, satellite operators and others, took the opportunity to push their case for the FCC and Congress to step in and reform the retransmission consent system.

"After rejecting arbitration and issuing threats, FOX pulled its network station from the air early this morning. Over three million households in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia are now left without access to baseball playoffs, NFL games, and local news and weather," the alliance said in a statement. "How much longer will consumers have to live in fear of blackouts by broadcasters? What community is next? The FCC and Congress must immediately step in to reform retransmission consent laws."

ATVA has petitioned the FCC to step in to mandate standstill agreements (keeping stations on the air during impasses) and outside arbitration. Its approximately three dozen members include Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, Discovery, Charter, The American Cable Association, and DISH.