Pai Proposes Dropping MVPD 30-Day Blackout Notification

FCC chair Ajit Pai is proposing 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.

The chairman blogged that he planned at the Dec. 12 meeting to vote on that item, the goal of which he said was to make sure consumers are "accurately informed" and aren't "confused."

"Americans are all-too-familiar with retransmission consent and program carriage negotiations that come down to the wire—sometimes days or even hours before the existing agreements expire," he blogged.

Under the FCC's current rules, he pointed out, cable ops have to provide that 30-day notice before a channel comes off if that change "is withing the provider's control."

Pai said the problem with that is that most disputes wind up being resolved in that 30-day window, which Pai says creates a "significant problem," which is mandatory notices of channel take-downs that don't happen. "[W]e don't want consumers to be inundated by premature and inaccurate notices about channel changes that never come to pass," he said.

Then he said there is the issue of whether such takedowns, when they happen, are within a cable operator's control. "After all, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango."

"So to make consumer notices more meaningful and accurate and to make our rules clearer, we will consider a proposal to change the notice deadline from 30 days in advance to 'as soon as possible' in cases in which carriage negotiations fail during the last 30 days of a contract." 

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.