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Genachowski: May Be Time to Update Retrans Rules to Limit Blackouts

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told a Senate panel on Tuesday
that the FCC may have to take action on retrans to reduce the potential for
blackouts, but then suggested it would need help from Congress.

That came in one exchange during a marathon oversight
hearing (two and a half hours) in the Senate Commerce Committee that ranged far
and wide, though never into the area of media violence despite its invocation
twice by chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.).

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) brought up the issue of
sports blackouts and his request to the commission that it look into lifting
its 40-year-old blackout rules. He said they were "deeply troubling,"
particularly when his constituents' favorite teams are involved.

He asked the status of that issue, which he said was
"profoundly important," not only to people in Connecticut but across
the nation.

Genachowski did not address it specifically, instead
steering the question toward retransmission consent blackouts, which also
implicates sports particularly during college bowl game season.

"An area where [blackouts] come up to often is in the
retransmission consent area," he said. "It may be time to update
those provisions to reduce the chances of those blackouts during retransmission
consent negotiation."

He did not commit to proceed to a rulemaking proceeding -- the
FCC has an open notice of proposed rulemaking, which has been open for a couple
of years. "Our authority under the existing statute is limited. This may
be an area where we need to work with the committee."

Cable operators and others who have been pushing for retrans
reforms were quick to jump on the hearing exchange as a good sign. The American
Television Alliance released a statement not long after proclaiming:
"There clearly is a critical mass of bipartisan leaders who have concerns
about outdated video regulations. The American Television Alliance applauds
these leaders and urges action by Congress and the FCC to fix these regulations
so they are more in line with the significant changes that have occurred in the
video marketplace in the last 21 years."

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.