FCC Trying to End CBS-Time Warner Cable Standoff

But its influence is limited to pressuring the antagonists

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to use its powers of persuasion to end the standoff between CBS and Time Warner Cable.

With the standoff now in its 26th day (retrans reform advocates are keeping count), failed negotiations between CBS and Time Warner Cable have left more than 3 million cable subscribers without CBS stations in markets such as New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. The blackout is turning out to be among the longest in the history of retrans feuds.

Although the FCC has limited authority to prevent or stop blackouts, it can put pressure on the two companies to resolve their differences.

"The commission is engaged at the highest levels with the respective parties and working to bring the impasse to an end for consumers and viewers in the affected markets. Our primary concern remains with consumers and viewers, and we are disappointed that the respective parties have yet to reach a retransmission agreement. We urge all parties to resolve this matter as quickly as possible so consumers can access the programming they rely on and are paying for," said an FCC spokesman Tuesday.

The FCC's limited involvement in the dispute follows acting chair Mignon Clyburn's statement at the FCC's monthly meeting Aug. 9 that she was "really distressed" about the situation and was "ready to consider appropriate action if this dispute continues."

Strong words indeed, but in reality the FCC's hands are tied. It can only become formally involved if one of the two companies files a complaint with the agency that the other party failed to negotiate in good faith. Good faith means that the companies continue to negotiate, meet at reasonable times, and do not unduly delay negotiations.

So far, neither CBS nor Time Warner Cable has filed a complaint—though if one listens to their rhetoric, both sides appear to have crossed those lines.

Most feel confident that the two will figure it all out just in time for the beginning of the NFL season Sept. 5. CBS airs its first regular-season game Sept. 8. Mark your calendar.