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Broadcasting, Cable Divided Over FCC Retrans Vote

The FCC's vote to launch its review of good faith retransmission consent negotiations drew a quick and varied response from industry that reflected the split among cable and broadcasters.

The National Association of Broadcasters was cautiously pessimistic.

"The notice, at first blush, appears to go much further than Congress directed," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "We were struck by the FCC's admission that nothing in this proceeding will necessarily translate to lower cable prices for consumers. We also question whether the FCC should be taking actions that benefit heavily consolidated companies that dominate the video landscape like DISH, AT&T/DirecTV, Time Warner Cable/Charter and Verizon. Consumers will be left wondering why the FCC is working overtime to tip the scales even further in favor of these mega-companies."

"ACA applauds the FCC's decision to review key features of the retransmission consent regime as Congress intended in the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "As ACA plans to document in this proceeding, TV stations around the country have not been bargaining in good faith, staging one blackout after blackout another, often just before the start of marquee sporting or entertainment broadcasts."

Dish, which is a member of the American Television Alliance, a big supporter of retrans reform, welcomed the wide-ranging inquiry.

"We are pleased that the FCC has launched this NPRM to modernize retransmission consent rules as blackouts continue to rise across the country and retrans rates skyrocket. We need real reform to protect consumers," Jeff Blum, VP and general counsel for Dish, told B&C/Multichanel News.

“As new entrants to the video distribution marketplace, ITTA members have virtually no bargaining power when negotiating for carriage of local broadcast television stations," said NPRM fan ITTA: The Voice of Midsized Communications Companies. "The outdated retransmission consent rules have allowed broadcasters to adopt a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, particularly when negotiating with smaller and new entrant video distributors, which has hurt video competition and increased costs for consumers.

"For this reason, ITTA commends the Commission for seizing the opportunity presented by STELAR to undertake a robust examination of practices used in retransmission consent negotiations so that it can put in place enforceable rules that ensure both broadcasters and MVPDs are bargaining in ‘good faith.’"

Echoing that sentiment was NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, which also represents smaller carriers.

“Members of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association serve the most rural subscribers, some of whom have no access to over-the-air broadcast signals and depend upon small business distributors for access to important content. Broadcasters have used outdated rules reflective of a market decades in the past to foist unfair and increasingly unsustainable fees for such content on the backs of rural consumers—fees that typically come in the form of ‘take it or leave it’ offers to distributors under the threat of blackout. A meaningful fresh look at the good faith standard could help level the playing field and provide relief to consumers, and NTCA looks forward to working with the FCC as it considers how to refine the good faith standard in retransmission consent negotiations.”

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.