Cecilia Kang
Washington Post
November 1, 2010

By most measures, Fox won its bitter battle with Cablevision on the fees it charges to retransmit programs. But even though Cablevision isn’t happy with the final terms of its contract, it succeeded in one goal: getting federal lawmakers to notice.

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) still thinks there needs to be a legislative fix. The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Julius Genachowski agrees.

On Sunday, Kerry commended Cablevision and Fox for ending their two-week contract impasse that left 3 million Cablevision subscribers in New York and New Jersey without signals to watch the World Series and other programs on Fox stations.

But he said the long negotiations impasse showed just how bad the increasingly contentious battles between broadcasters and paid television distributors (cable and satellite services) have become. Broadcasters are asking for more money and communications laws, experts say, favor their position. That’s led to a record number of television blackouts this year as a result of contract disputes.

“What I know is that this system is broken, and I think we’re all better off if we have a dialogue about systemic reform and modernizing the law rather than just jumping into the fray and getting involved in each conflict in isolation,” Kerry said in a statement.

Of course the passage of legislation reforms may be harder after the Nov. 2 election, if Republicans grab more seats, as expected.

B last Friday, Genachowski emphasized in a letter to Kerry that the agency’s hands are tied and that an update to retransmission laws may be needed.

“I agree that it is time for Congress to revisit the current retransmission law and assess whether changes in the marketplace call for new tools to strike the appropriate balance of private negotiations and consumer protection,” he wrote. “Such tools might include, for example, mandatory mediation and binding arbitration.”

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