Indy Programmers Slam FCC's Proposed Carriage Rule Change

A group of independent programmers has told the FCC it should be strengthening, not weakening, the program carriage rules and that its changes to the statute of limitations on complaints could foreclose some complaints and delay relief in others by years.  

That came in comments to the FCC from RIDE Television Network (“RIDE TV”), along with Newsmax TV, HDNet, LLC (AXS TV and HDNet Movies), KSE Outdoor Sportsman Group (Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network) and WeatherNation TV (collectively “Independent Programmers”). 

Back in March, the FCC voted unanimously to seek comment on some proposed changes to its program carriage rules. 

The item, which combined a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, sought comment on whether and how to modify the time limit requirements for filing program carriage complaints, specifically the statute of limitations for program carriage disputes and how the FCC's Administrative Law Judge reviews those disputes. 

The item proposed to hold that "in circumstances where a defendant multichannel video programming distributor has denied or failed to acknowledge a request for program carriage, the statute of limitations is triggered by that action, rather than notice of intent to file a complaint on that basis." It would do the same for the statute of limitations for "program access, open video system (OVS), and good-faith retransmission consent complaints." 

It also proposed to "harmonize" the process the FCC and ALJ use to review such complaints to help resolve those complaints faster. 

But the independent programmers argue the FCC is going in the wrong direction.  

"The daunting cost of program carriage litigation, coupled with the threat of retaliation and the lack of success of previous program carriage complaints, render the existing carriage rules toothless and more honored in the breach than in the observance," they said.  

Related: NCTA Backs Program Carriage, Access Rule Changes

But the FCC's proposed statute of limitation changes would make the rules even more ineffective and foreclose program carriage complaints in many cases, it says, and delay relief to programmers in others, making the rules "even more of a nullity." 

It told the FCC it should abandon its attempt to narrow the statute of limitations, and instead come up with rules for good faith programming negotiations that prevent most-favored-nation clauses and other "anti competitive tactics." 

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.