Updated: Sen. Kerry Wades Into Ongoing Cablevision, Fox Spat


As 3 million Cablevision subscribers go for the fourth day without Fox stations and programming in New York and Philadelphia, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) Tuesday (Oct. 19) stepped into the fray, sending draft legislation to Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC has been slow to act on retransmission consent, though there have been plenty of letters—even a petition—urging the FCC to modify the rules.  

"In the absence of FCC action, I feel a responsibility to begin to consider the smartest, least intrusive actions to reform the law," wrote Kerry, who plans to introduce his legislation during the upcoming lame duck session.

Kerry's legislation would not allow any termination of programming or TV signals, while the parties negotiate a new agreement and the FCC considers whether or not to recommend binding arbitration. Depending on the scenario (Kerry outlines four), broadcasters could still pull signals or the distributor (cable company) could be fined for not accepting a good faith offer.

In the current spat between Cablevision and News Corp., Cablevision has said it would agree to binding arbitration, but News Corp. disagreed, preferring direct business-to-business negotiations.

"Rather than take sides in a conflict of corporate interests, we can all agree that this system works least of all for consumers, the primary interest we represent in matters of public policy-making. I hope you will agree that the current process—which forces all sides and particularly consumers into lousy choices—is broken and in need of reform. Currently, either party, sufficiently strong willed, can play a game of negotiating chicken with the consumer caught in the middle," Kerry wrote.

In a statement, Genachowski said he was "troubled" by the standoff but stopped short of committing to any regulatory action. He did, however, make some phone calls.

“I have called the CEOs of both companies and reiterated the importance of reaching a deal, as many companies have done before. I reminded the companies that they share responsibility for consumer disruption, and that they shouldn’t punish consumers because of their unwillingness to reach a deal. I also insisted that they negotiate in good faith. We will continue to scrutinize their actions very closely," Genachowski said.

Meanwhile, the accusations fly back and forth between Cablevision and Fox, which are no closer to a deal than they were before. They have agreed to talk again Wednesday (Oct. 20).
Cablevision once again Tuesday took the side of lawmakers, advocating binding arbitration to break the impasse with Fox.  

Fox called Cablevision "hypocritical." Three weeks ago, when Cablevision had a dispute with DISH regarding MSG and MSG Plus, the cable company submitted an FCC filing arguing against arbitration to resolve retransmission disputes.

For those keeping score, the standoff with Fox is Cablevision's fifth blackout in the cable company's history, and the third blackout this year.