Broadcast Group Pursues New Front in War With Pay TV

Group hopes to divert attention from retransmission consent reform

TVFreedom, a broadcast front group formed in response to the American Television Alliance, a cable and satellite front group, is leveraging consumer hatred of rising cable bills in a bid to derail the ongoing spat around broadcast retransmission fees.

Since the average consumer is less likely to suffer a retransmission-induced blackout than an increase in their cable bill, TVFreedom just might be onto something.

In a letter to eight consumer groups, TVFreedom cites Consumer Reports research that found that monthly cable and satellite TV bills have increased at double the rate of inflation in each of the past 15 years.

Typical of Washington maneuvering, many of the eight consumer groups that received TVFreedom's letter on Wednesday, such as Public Knowledge, Free Press, Consumer Action and Consumers Union, also have supported retransmission consent reform.

"We thought this was common ground we could speak on," said Rob Kenny, TVFreedom's director of public affairs. "I hope we can figure out a game plan going forward."

Using a lot of the same research cited by the groups that TVFreedom seeks to enlist, the letter makes the case that cable bills often contain excessive fees for equipment, early termination fees and change of service fees. Kenny said that he had already heard from four of the groups.

"I know they aren't coming from this with the purest of motivations, but I saw the letter and the points they made and they're correct," said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, which supports retransmission consent reform. "Anyone might be on the right on one issue and wrong on another. We form alliance around issues. We have no permanent allies and no permanent friends."

The ATVA blamed the broadcasters for the high rates. "If broadcasters are truly concerned about high prices of cable bills, they should look in a mirror. Their own members own one half of the top 50 most expensive cable networks and they're raising rates on both broadcast stations and cable networks at astronomical levels," said ATVA spokesperson Brian Frederick.