State Broadcast Associations Diss 'Local Choice'

All 50 state broadcast associations have banded together to ask the Senate Commerce Committee not to include the "Local Choice" proposal in must-pass satellite television compulsory license legislation.

"If adopted, the proposal will unjustifiably eliminate television broadcasting’s longstanding statutory right of retransmission consent and unfairly single out the free, over-the-air, local television broadcast industry for mandatory 'a la carte' treatment," they wrote in a letter to Sen. Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.) and ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.), who proposed Local Choice as a way to reduce cable bills and prevent retrans blackouts.

That proposal would essentially deep-six the retrans regime by allowing MVPD subs to choose whether they want to pay for stations who elect payment for retransmission consent. That also means the cable operators would not be required to deliver all retrans stations on the basic tier, since they would not have to deliver them at all to viewers who opted not to pay for them. The same choice is not offered for the cable channels, scores and sometimes hundreds, that make up the majority of cable bills.

The broadcast associations argue that the proposal will have "devastating" consequences for localism and viewers, and signaled they would be coming to Washington in the coming days and weeks before a decision is made on the proposa and visiting home offices to make their point.

It also says there are some unanswered questions, like how MVPD's would get ancillary rights, such as VOD or OVD, that are currently contemplated in the broadcast/cable retrans negotiations that would be replaced by a broadcaster/MVPD sub direct sale relationship.

They say that once the Local Choice proposal becomes a matter of public knowledge outside the Beltway, there will be pressure to extend it to cable channels too, thus becoming the "slippery slope" to mandated a la carte.

The American Television Alliance, which backs the proposal, has launched a flight of radio, print and online ads to make sure the public has knowledge of Local Choice.

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.