Small Ops: Probe Retrans Deals

Washington— Small cable operators have asked federal regulators to probe the retransmission-consent practices of the major broadcast networks that also own cable channels.

The American Cable Association — which represents 900 operators with 7.5 million subscribers — complained to the Federal Communications Commission that the major networks are tying carriage of local TV stations to the carriage of cable networks they might not want to offer to their subscribers.

"It is our goal to show Congress and the FCC what enormous leverage programmers and broadcasters apply to consumers and independent operators, taking away choice and raising prices," ACA president Matt Polka said in a prepared statement.

In a June 8 filing, the ACA complained that ABC ties retransmission consent to carriage of Disney Channel, SoapNet and other Disney cable networks. It added that News Corp. does the same with Fox Sports Net, Fox News Channel, FX, National Geographic Channel and Fox Health Channel.

The ACA said NBC linked carriage of its owned-and-operated stations to carriage of MSNBC and CNBC, as well as to payment of an Olympic Games surcharge.

As a first step, the ACA said, the FCC should prohibit the broadcast networks from making cable operators sign nondisclosure agreements in connection with their retransmission-consent deals.

The association said it was also troubled that TV stations are evidently surrendering their retransmission-consent rights to the networks' cable divisions.

"As retransmission-consent rights rest solely with a commercial-television licensee, and not with the satellite programmer, this practice raises a fundamental question: Who controls the licensee?" the ACA asked.