FCC member Michael Copps issued a terse statement Wednesday on the continued standoff between the Fox broadcast network and Cablevision over retransmission fees, saying the commission needs to examine whether both sides are engaging in true "good-faith" negotiations.
At issue are the fees that Cablevision pays to Fox to provide its programs to the cable operator's subscribers in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Fox is demanding twice as much for its programming than what Cablevision currently pays, according to Cablevision. Fox pulled its programming from Cablevision's 3 million subscribers in the New York area on Friday after the two sides failed to reach agreement on a new retransmission agreement.
Copps, a Democrat, noted that the FCC's role in the dispute is limited by law to ensuring both sides are engaging in "good faith" negotiations. But he added that the commission may have a role to play in protecting consumers.
"I believe the commission should take a very serious look at whether 'good faith' negotiations are indeed occurring," Copps said. "What, indeed, does 'good faith' mean in the dog-eat-dog world of big media? If such talks are not taking place, we should move promptly to protect consumers."
Fox has tried to enlist the support of members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in urging the FCC not to intervene in the dispute. Cable companies, meanwhile, would like to see Congress overhaul the whole retransmission process. Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., proposed draft legislation Tuesday that would allow the FCC to intervene more directly when retransmission talks break down.
Copps also linked the retransmission dispute to his call for network neutrality rules aimed at prohibiting broadband providers or others from discriminating against or blocking access to Internet content. He argued that Fox's decision to briefly block Cablevision Internet subscribers from reaching Fox Web sites highlights the importance of protecting the openness of the Internet.
"For a broadcaster to pull programming from the Internet for a cable company's subscribers, as apparently happened here, directly threatens the open Internet," Copps said. "This was yet another instance revealing how vulnerable the Internet is to discrimination and gate-keeper control absent clear rules of the road."
Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.