Lobbying has picked up in recent weeks as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to launch a proposed rulemaking on possible changes to the current rules governing the process by which cable operators and other video content distributors negotiate to retransmit broadcasters' programming.
The FCC has included on its agenda for its March 3rd monthly meeting a proposed rulemaking seeking comment on changes to the retransmission process. Cable firms and other multichannel video programming distributors negotiate fees to allow them to carry programming from ABC, CBS, Fox and other broadcast networks.
A parade of cable firms and other stakeholders have met with FCC officials in recent weeks to press for changes to a process they say is outdated and broken. Among the proposals they would like to see the commission adopt is some sort of binding arbitration process and a requirement that broadcasters continue to allow cable firms to carry programming while disputes are being resolved.
The issue has gained increased attention in the last year after high-profile disputes between cable firms and broadcasters have led to short blackouts in some areas including in the New York area last fall when some Cablevision viewers lost access to Fox programming during the World Series because of a retransmission fee dispute.
In a letter Wednesday to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Full Channel, a small Rhode Island-based cable provider, was the latest in a long list of cable firms pushing the FCC to "rectify the imbalance of power" between broadcasters and cable firms, the company said. Full Channel cited a recent dispute it had with Univision that led the Spanish-language broadcaster to pull its programming from Full Channel's customers after the cable firm balked at paying a 33 percent fee increase.
Time Warner Cable officials met earlier this week with aides to Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps on the retransmission issue. "At these meetings, we urged the commission to seek comment on a broad range of reforms, including new dispute-resolution procedures and interim carriage requirements, to address the consumer harms arising under the existing rules," Time Warner said in a filing with the FCC. "We explained that the commission has ample authority to adopt such remedies and that it would be counterproductive to foreclose debate on these important issues.
In addition to these individual cable firms, a coalition known as the American Television Alliance made up of cable companies, satellite television providers, public interest groups and others also have held several meetings with a variety of FCC officials in recent weeks on the retransmission issue. In some of their meetings, the coalition's members have provided a long list of issues they believe should be included in the questions the FCC will be seeking comment on as it weighs possible changes to the retransmission process.
While not as active in recent weeks in lobbying the FCC as the cable firms, broadcasters have been arguing that the current process is not broken and does not need fixing. They say they are only seeking fair compensation for their programming.
Officials from the National Association of Broadcasters and some of its member companies met with Commissioner Robert McDowell earlier this month, according to a letter filed with the FCC by the NAB. In the letter, the officials said they urged the commission to approach the issue in a "balanced manner, and should not proceed from the incorrect assumption that the current system is not working. We emphasized that any notice should ask questions about the roles that both broadcasters and pay television providers play in the retransmission consent marketplace. ... We noted that changes proposed by the pay television industry would tilt the market-based retransmission consent system in their favor, harming competition and local stations' service to their communities."
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