Jasmin Melvin
Reuters
November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Cable operators are asking U.S. lawmakers to consider reforms that would protect consumers from blackouts of their favorite television programs.

Cable providers, in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on Wednesday, said the government should revamp outdated laws on retransmission consent — negotiations over the fees cable and satellite providers pay to carry broadcast content.

“The retransmission consent rules need to be updated to prevent broadcasters from using consumers to gain leverage in negotiations,” Glenn Britt, chief executive of Time Warner Cable Inc, said in prepared remarks obtained by Reuters.

A Senate Commerce subcommittee is holding a hearing after News Corp last month pulled its local Fox stations and sister cable networks from Cablevision Systems Corp subscribers when the companies failed to reach a deal over a price rise in programing fees.

More than 3 million New York area homes saw a 15-day blackout of local Fox news, the opening of the World Series baseball championship and popular shows like House, Glee and The Simpsons.

Britt’s prepared testimony said the nearly two-decades-old regulations governing retransmission consent do not reflect dramatic changes to the industry over time.

The Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet will hear testimony on Wednesday from cable operators and broadcasters on whether retransmission rules create an uneven playing field and need to be revamped.

The Federal Communications Commission said its hands were tied during the Cablevision-Fox dispute as the agency has the authority to ensure good faith negotiations, not to prevent service disruptions.

Senator John Kerry, chair of the subcommittee, released draft legislation in October to protect consumers caught in the middle of these disputes and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he was open to revisiting retransmission law.

Read the Full Text