The FCC plans to pursue new rules aimed at protecting consumers from blackouts in cable fee disputes, a commission official announced Wednesday.
Although the commission has not formally announced a proceeding, Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., released a statement Wednesday applauding the FCC for announcing proposed rules to reform the way broadcasters and cable companies negotiate during carriage fee disputes.
The FCC declined to comment. Kerry's press release came in response to a speech given by FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake earlier Wednesday.
Lake announced that the Media Bureau will move forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking that "will take a broad look at what more we might do to advance the statutory objectives of allowing retransmission fees [carriage fee negotiations] to be set by market forces while protecting the interests of consumers."
The process aims to bring some clarity to the scope of authority the FCC has to act on this issue.
In the wake of Lake's statement, Kerry said he did not believe it will be necessary for him to introduce legislation on the matter at this time.
The negotiations between broadcasters and cable companies over programming fees has drawn fire this year in the wake of several high-profile disputes that left consumers temporarily without access to some broadcast programming. Kerry recently held a hearing on the issue to examine ways the rules governing these negotiations could be reformed to protect consumers from losing service.
During a bitter dispute between Cablevision and Fox this fall, which caused several million customers in the New York area to miss the first few games of the World Series, Kerry introduced draft legislation that called for greater transparency to the process and called for giving the FCC a more formal role in arbitrating negotiations.
In response to Lake's speech, Corie Wright, policy counsel for the public interest group Free Press, said the commission's move is a good first step, but should go further.
"The only lasting fix will be empowering consumers with information about the prices and terms for carriage of each and every channel in their subscription, as well as giving them the right to opt out of paying for any unwanted channels," Wright said in a statement. "In the event of signals being pulled, consumers certainly should not have to continue to pay for channels that they no longer receive."