New Hampshire Rep. Asks FCC to Complete Retrans Proceeding

Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) has written the FCC asking it to act on its open retransmission consent reform proceeding in time to impact upcoming retrans negotiations.

The FCC voted unanimously last March to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to clarify what constitutes good faith bargaining and potentially take some other steps, including proposing eliminating the syndicated exclusivity and non-duplication in the event of retrans impasses to give cable operators an alternative source of station programming. But it has yet to act on its proposals.

With a boatload of retrans deals up by the end of this year, Bass "encouraged" FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a letter dated Friday (Oct. 21) to complete the proceeding in time for the decision "to inform this year's retransmission consent negotiations," a point he made twice in the letter using almost identical language.

That is something the American Cable Association, which represents small and midsized providers, has been urging as well. Bass said that he has heard from a number of his state's smaller pay TV providers that "increasingly frequent negotiation breakdowns and rising retransmission consent fees result in both significant inconvenience and cost to consumers."

The FCC NPRM issues from the starting point that the FCC does not have the authority to mandate carriage or arbitration. But it does suggest a number of possible changes, specifically to "provide more guidance to the negotiating parties on good-faith negotiation requirements; improve notice to consumers in advance of possible service disruptions caused by impasses in retransmission consent negotiations; and eliminate the commission's network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules, which provide a means for parties to enforce certain exclusive contractual rights to network or syndicated programming through the commission rather than through the courts."

Other issues raised include the impact of early termination fees on the ability to switch providers to avoid blackouts, whether networks should be allowed to negotiate retrans for affiliates, and whether a station should be able to negotiate for a station it operates under a joint services agreement.

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.