Lawmakers Hope to Turn Off the Dark

Senate Commerce committee hearing to assess impact of the Cable Act

This week’s Senate Commerce committee hearing on the Cable Act—the law often blamed for blackouts on cable and satellite TV—may not be the clash of the titans, but it will be close.

On hand Tuesday (July 24) to testify will be representatives from the same crowd that brought the debate to a fever pitch last week: Viacom and DirecTV; Hearst Television and Time Warner Cable; and AMC and Dish Network.

The high-profile disputes, coupled with fierce lobbying over the last couple of years, has led lawmakers to conclude it may be time to update the nation’s communications laws.

“We can’t look to the future of video without evaluating the Cable Act’s impact on the modern television marketplace,” said Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Commerce committee. The 20-year act requires pay TV providers to carry TV stations unless stations choose retransmission consent, resulting in a negotiation for carriage fees.

Even though less than 1 percent of program disputes leave pay TV customers in the dark, lawmakers take special notice when it affects voters in their own backyards.

While there is zero chance that any new laws will be passed this year, the House and Senate Commerce committees are setting the groundwork for next Congress holding a series of “future of video” hearings.