Retransmission Fees and Blackouts Targeted in Two Separate Bills Before Congress

By Kevin Eck Comment

CableTVTwo bills introduced into Congress this week are taking aim at retransmission fees and blackouts.

The CHOICE or “Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment” Act, introduced by California Representatives Anna Eshoo (D) and Zoe Lofgren (D), would ask the FCC to force interim carriage of a TV station during a retrans negotiation impasse and would allow consumers to opt out of paying for TV stations that elect retransmission consent. You can read all five provisions after the jump.

The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, re-introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R) is “a comprehensive video reform bill that repeals outdated laws including compulsory copyright licenses, eliminates various mandates on private sector companies and consumers, and removes certain FCC broadcast and media ownership rules.”

“My bill would put an end to broadcast television blackouts and ensure consumers aren’t held hostage by a dispute they have no control over,” Eshoo, the ranking member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee told The Los Angeles Times. Senior member of the Judiciary Committee Zoe Lofgren, added, “this bill offers the basic consumer protections and choices they should receive in television and online services.”

“While the compulsory licenses of ’76 and ’88, and the ’92 Cable Act may have made sense years ago, competition from new players in the video marketplace have rendered these laws obsolete,” said Scalise. “Valuable local affiliate programming, strongly demanded by consumers including myself, is proof that archaic government regulations are unnecessary today. Instead, traditional copyright law should facilitate the distribution of this programming so that broadcasters are rightfully paid for their content, rather than for the use of a signal.”

The five provisions in the Video Choice Act:

  1. Preventing Broadcast Television Blackouts
    Gives the FCC explicit statutory authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse.
  2. Ensuring Consumer Choice in Cable Programming
    Ensures that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.
  3. Wholesale Unbundling of Broadcast Stations in Retransmission Consent Negotiations
    Prohibits a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming.
  4. Examination into the Blocking of a Broadcast Station’s Owned or Affiliated Online Content During Retransmission Consent Negotiations
    Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station’s owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in “good faith.”
  5. FCC Study of Sports Programming Costs
    Calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.