FCC Chief Worried Over Retrans Aftershocks [Multichannel News]
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke to the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this week. Among the topics he discussed with the broadcasters - the FCC's recent moves to reform retransmission consent, the process by which cable providers are required to negotiate with broadcasters for carriage of their over-the-air television signals on a cable system. Right now, the process is broken. Huge increases in fees are being demanded by broadcasters, forcing cable operators to pass along those fees to customers, even though the broadcaster is given public spectrum to distribute their signals for free.
Every now and then, negotiations break down over the significant demands, resulting in broadcasters pulling their channels off of cable and cable customers not being able to watch many of their favorite shows and events. Just last month, Cablevision customers in the New York metropolitan area lost ABC for 20 hours, including the first 15 minutes of the Academy Awards
Genachowski explained to the audience of broadcasters that there are "legitimate questions" about the current regulations that govern the retransmission consent process - specifically concerns about the impact of broadcasters' retransmission demands on the price of cable subscriptions and the service interruptions that result when negotiations falter.
The FCC is currently conducting an inquiry into the issue, which could result in changes in the retransmission consent rules. While there are many options available to the FCC in making changes - including binding arbitration when negotiations fail - ultimately the Commission should make changes that best serve customers -- not broadcasters and not cable operators.