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NAB: Wheeler Shows Shocking Disregard for Congress

The National Association of Broadcasters was not happy with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's continued support for eliminating the broadcast exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, particularly in the face of concerns by congressional Democrats and Republicans.

"Chairman Wheeler’s dismissive rejection of the concerns raised by key congressional leaders over his proposal to eliminate broadcast exclusivity rules represents a shocking disregard for the institution that confirmed him," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Exclusive programming rights allow TV stations to serve communities with quality news and entertainment, a point well understood by [Senate Judiciary] Chairmen [Charles] Grassley and [Commerce Committee] Chairman [John] Thune, ranking members [Sens. Patrick] Leahy and [Bill] Nelson, [Senators Chuck] Schumer and [Dianne] Feinstein, and six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Unfortunately, their concerns have been ignored by an FCC Chairman who appears to be on a lone crusade against exclusivity."

The reference was to letters from Wheeler (to Schumer, Grassley and Thune) in response to those concerns. The letters have been posted on the FCC's Web site.

Wheeler told them that the rules keep the marketplace from operating "in a fair and efficient manner and aggravate the harm to consumers during retransmission consent disputes."

Wheeler said the rules exacerbate retrans blackouts "by prohibiting the importation of distant signals, as well as strengthen the position of broadcasters in retrans disputes, thereby constituting a distortion of free market processes."

The chairman in August circulated an order that would have eliminated the rules, but the other commissioners were not as convinced the rules needed axing and did not vote the item. The chairman told legislators in a House oversight hearing last week that the issue would likely resurface as part of the FCC's review of good faith retrans negotiations, a point he also made to the legislators in his letters.