FCC Seeks Comment on Retrans Petition

The Federal Communications Commission as expected on Friday (March 19) opened a proceeding to seek comment on the petition filed by Time Warner Cable and 13 others calling for the FCC to revise the retransmission consent rules. Comments are due April 19 and reply comments are due May 4.

Alarmed over several recent retransmission standoffs, Time Warner and other petitioners—including Cablevision, the American Cable Association, Charter Communications, DirecTV and DISH Network — last week asked the FCC “to implement new dispute resolution mechanisms” to resolve disputes and ensure uninterrupted programming.

The most recent negotiation between ABC’s New York flagship WABC and Cablevision in the New York suburbs had threatened to leave the latter’s customers in the dark for the network’s broadcast of the Academy Awards.

“Disputes in recent years have become much more common, and will only continue to pop up more frequently in the future, with consumers threatened with the loss of the service they’ve paid for when they want it most,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. “Allowing for comments on this petition for rulemaking will further educate both the commission and congress on the practical alternatives to resolving these disputes, and that discussion and debate is good for everyone.”

The National Association of Broadcasters has argued that the free-market-based retransmission consent model should not be tampered with—maintaining that it helps support local programming.

The current process for retransmission consent was established in the 1992 Cable Act, allowing the market to determine agreements. In the past few years, broadcasters, seeking a new revenue stream, have demanded payment from cable systems to carry their signals. Cable companies, which charge subscribers for their packages of channels, would naturally prefer to pay as little as possible.