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Hill Could Boost Cable Content Control

It looks like Congress might indeed give multichannel video programming distributors more control over their content, thanks in part to the fallout from Russian election meddling.

While multichannel TV distributors are required to include TV stations that invoke must-carry, and lease a certain number of channels for public access, that won’t be the case for content controlled or financed by the Russian government, at least according to a new bill that emerged from conference with that language intact.

The bill is a provision worked into the National Defense Authorization Act, according to a copy of the conference report obtained by The Wire. The House passed the bill, with the Senate expected to follow suit after the Thanksgiving recess.

The provision reads as follows: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law” — that would be the must-carry, retransmission-consent and leased-access provisions of the Communications Act — “a multichannel video programming distributor may not be directly or indirectly required, including as a condition of obtaining retransmission consent, to carry non-incidental video content from a local commercial television station, qualified noncommercial educational television station or television broadcast station to the extent that such content is owned, controlled, or financed (in whole or in part) by the Government of the Russian Federation; or lease or otherwise make available, channel capacity to any person for the provision of video programming that is owned, controlled or financed (in whole or in part) by the Government of the Russian Federation.”

RT (formerly Russia Today) appears to be a target of the bill, as the federal government has identified it as a propaganda vehicle for the Russian government. The network has registered as a foreign agent under pressure from the U.S. government.

RT’s website does not show any TV station carriage — it is mostly distributed to hotel rooms — but this bill would prevent any TV station that did decide to carry the programming from being able to assert must-carry, at least for that programming.

It also sets a precedent for targeted loosening of the must-carry, retransmission-consent and leased-access constraints on cable operators’ control over their content.

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.