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Mayors Tell FCC to Keep 30-Day Retrans Notices

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has joined local franchise authorities to tell the FCC it doesn't have the authority to eliminate the 30-day notice requirement for potential retrans-related blackouts, and shouldn't eliminate it even if it could.

They told the FCC its rules about retrans notifications "must shape marketplace practices to preserve consumer protections, not...reduce consumer protection obligations to match marketplace practices."

Related; FCC Seeks Comment on Retrans Notification Proposal

With cable operator's full-throated support, the FCC proposed to allow cable operators to provide notice to customers about potential service or rate changes "as soon as possible," rather than the current 30 says before retrans agreements expire.

The FCC voted unanimously on Dec. 12 to propose eliminating the requirement that cable operators provide their subs at least 30 days notice of a TV station channel coming off their systems, changing it to notice "as soon as possible" given that retrans deals are often struck in the 11th hour before being resolved short of a service interruption, so the mandatory notification could be confusing to subs who don't wind up losing the signal.

"[W]e don't want consumers to be inundated by premature and inaccurate notices about channel changes that never come to pass," FCC chair Ajit Pai said of the proposal.

Consumers would be ill-served by requiring operators to send confusing and unnecessary notices about potential channel line-up changes, where parties are engaged in active negotiations at the end of a contract term," said NCTA-the Internet & Television Association at the time of the vote.

In reply comments on the FCC proposal, the mayors said they were all for an "as soon as possible" notification, but only in addition to the 30-day deadline, not instead of it. They note that the FCC has put local governments on shot clocks--for deciding pole attachment issues, for example, or whether or not to grant a cable franchise. To "abandon" the 30-day notice "would send a very odd signal to the world: Shot clocks and deadlines work when applied to local governments, such as LFAs, but do not work when applied to commercial enterprises," they told the FCC.

The mayors agree with the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (local franchise authorities, or LFAs), that the Cable Act requirement that there be 30 days advance notice of any proposed increase in the price of the basic tier applies since blackouts mean subs may be paying the same price for fewer channels.

One deadline the mayors do want the FCC to eliminate, however, is the requirement that LFAs document that they have requested copies of those 30-day notices 90 days before they are issued.