FCC Seeks Comment on NCTA/NAB Retrans Compromise

No, broadcasters and cable operators have not agreed that either the must-carry/retrans regime is still good law (broadcasters) or an anachronistic thumb on the competitive scale (cable), but the FCC has sought comment on a joint proposal by both those camps for updating how TV stations notify MVPDs of whether they are electing either mandatory carriage (must carry) or will try to negotiate a fee for MVPD carriage of their signals (retransmission consent), with the possibility of losing carriage if they can't strike a deal.

The National Association of Broadcasters and NCTA-the Internet & Television Association have proposed a way to reduce the "costs" and "burdens" of the carriage election process and the FCC wants stakeholders to weigh in.

The American Cable Association, which represents only small and midsized operators, has already said it also is on board, but says that if the FCC accepts the joint proposal, it should do the same for requirements that cable operators send notices to TV stations by certified mail. Those cable notices include repositioning or deletion of signals, changes in technical configurations, notices that a cable system is no longer exempt from the network nonduplication or syndicated exclusivity rules (once it has more than 1,000 subs).

Currently, each TV station has to elect carriage every three years via certified mail. Broadcasters and cable operators agree that should not be by e-mail, and should not be required if the status remains quo.

Under the joint plan, "a commercial broadcast TV station would be required to send notice of its must carry or retransmission consent election to a cable operator only if the station changed its election status from its previous election. In those cases, the broadcaster would send its notice to an email address listed in the cable operator’s online public file or in the FCC’s Cable Operations and Licensing System (COALS) database, for cable operators that do not have an online public file."

NAB and NCTA say the compromise “would alleviate the burdens associated with the current notification process and meet the needs of both broadcasters and cable operators.”

Initial comments are due Jan. 7, with replies due Jan. 17.

The FCC in January ruled that satellite carrier Dish Network was within its rights to deny must-carry to a San Francisco noncommercial TV station because the station used Priority Express Mail rather than certified mail to make its carriage election, signaling that the station's letter was trumped by the letter of the law. That is the letter broadcasters and cable ops agree needs changing.

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.