FCC Officially Puts Retrans Reform on the Agenda

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission put retransmission consent on the agenda for its March 3 open meeting but was short on the details about the item.

In announcing the proceeding, the commission said it would open up a notice of proposed rulemaking “to streamline and clarify the commission’s rules.”

The item may fall short of the hopes of retransmission reform advocates, led by Time Warner Cable and the American Television Alliance, which has pressed the FCC to reform the rules, which date back to the 1992 Cable Act.

Most believe the FCC will propose rules to determine what constitutes “bad faith” negotiations between broadcasters and cable systems in order to prevent blackouts of popular programming. It is unlikely to suggest arbitration as a solution to solving disputes.

Retransmission reform intensifies the battle between two longtime media foes. Broadcasters increasingly count on the $1 billion they receive in retransmission fees annually as a second revenue stream, while cable systems see it as an increasing cost of doing business. The consumer, caught in the middle, faces potential blackouts and steeper cable fees.

The FCC promised last December to take up the rules by first quarter this year. As a result, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, pulled legislation he drafted during the Fox-Cablevision dispute, which left about 4 million consumers without the World Series and other Fox programming for several days.

Other items on the FCC agenda for March include rules to make it easier for Tribal Lands to provide radio and other communications services, and rules to make video and other communications more accessible for the disabled.