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Martin Asked To Re-Examine Retrans

Eight members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking him to take a new look at retransmission consent as the FCC reconsiders the economics of family-friendly tiers and a la carte cable.

Martin said two weeks ago that an initial FCC study putting the kibosh on a la carte from an economic standpoint was flawed and one-sided and that the commission was coming out with a new one that suggests it may be bottom-line as well as family-friendly.

In a letter dated Monday (Dec. 12), Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and six other members wrote of their concerns that retrans deals--in which broadcasters negotiate compensation for carriage of their TV stations on cable--have helped drive the bundling of family-friendly and unfriendly channels.

Big broadcast groups also frequently have co-owned cable nets that become part of package station/cable channel deals.

"As you know," the eight members wrote, "the Committee on Energy & Commerce, at the request of Representative Nathan Deal, requested the initial study as a part of the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004.

"The purpose of the study was to assist the committee’s effort to better understand the costs and benefits of the current regulatory regime which governs programming and its delivery to consumers. 

"In particular, claims have been made that retransmission-consent agreements allow the tying of family-friendly channels to those undeniably inappropriate for children and raises rates for consumers.

"We have heard that some networks mandate that to gain carriage for children’s programming often requires carriage of adult content on the same tier. 

"That situation seems questionable at best and may be one of the core reasons our constituents are not satisfied with their viewing options.

"Consequently, our goal is to investigate whether today’s market structure provides consumers with the best mechanism possible to satisfy their ability to protect their families from objectionable content as well as to help control the prices they pay."

The legislators, who, according to Deal Deputy Chief of Staff Todd Smith, also included John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), and Charles Bass (R-N.H.), concluded:  "An accurate and unbiased report from the commission will greatly assist us in our ongoing efforts."