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TWC: FCC Has Failed to Act to Stem Retrans Disruptions

Time Warner Cable (TWC) Chairman Glenn Britt plans
to tell members of the Senate Communications Subcommittee that, despite support
for TWC's petition at the commission for retrans reforms and, in the
fact of the "continued occurrence of disruption," the FCC
"has failed to act."

That is according a copy of Britt's prepared
testimony for a hearing Wednesday (Nov. 17) in that subcommittee on
retransmission consent. Britt says that the FCC was wrong to suggest it did not
have the power to protect consumers from the fallout from retransmission
consent fights.

The chairman of the subcommittee, John Kerry
(D-Mass.) has called for retrans reforms. In supporting a congressional
review of the process, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that under the
present system "the FCC has very few tools with which to
protect consumers' interests in the retransmission consent process."

Britt and Time Warner Cable disagree. In a recent
interview with Multichannel News
Senior VP Steven Teplitz said Congress gave the FCC "broad and
direct authority" over retrans rules. "The Communications Act
says, 'The FCC shall establish regulations to govern the exercise of broadcast
stations for the right to grant retransmission consent,'" Teplitz said.
"That is about as broad and direct as it gets."

Britt says consumers are "bearing the
brunt" of FCC inaction that has allowed broadcasters to put those
consumers "in harms way" during negotiations. Maintaining the tough
rhetoric, Britt adds that broadcasters are willing to hold their viewers
"hostage," viewers who "needlessly suffer" from misleading
advertising even when there is no disruption.

Echoing the testimony of Cablevision COO Tom
Rutledge, Britt said he was all for the free market negotiations broadcasters
have asked the FCC and Congress to stay out of. But, also like Rutledge, his
point is that the negotiations are not in a free market.

"Retransmission consent negotiations are
conducted under a thicket of outdated regulations," he says, and is only
one of a number of special privileges that also includes "must carry
rights, territorial exclusivity protection, a guaranteed right to basic tier carriage
and, of course, the broadcasters' free use of the public airwaves."

Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and other cable operators have joined
with telco and satellite companies to petition the FCC to step in to
mandate outside arbitration and keep TV station signals on the air during
impasses. The FCC collected public input on the issue, but has not acted
on the petition.