FCC Should Eliminate Market-Distorting Rules Favoring Broadcasters, Exercise Existing Powers and Protect Consumers

WASHINGTON D.C.  May 27, 2011 – While ATVA is a diverse coalition of pay-TV providers of all sizes, consumer groups and independent programmers, consensus is emerging on key ways that FCC should level the playing field and protect consumers during retransmission disputes.   In comments that will be filed in the docket, individual ATVA members share these general views:

Action Is Essential to Create a Free Market – The status quo is tilted toward broadcasters, outdated in the face of technological changes and doesn’t serve the public interest.   The broadcasters’ Pollyannaish denial of the problem shows they are tuned out to reality.

Disarm Broadcasters of the Blackout Weapon to Protect Consumers – Eliminating the network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules for cable operators and waiving the “unserved household” restrictions for satellite providers are important steps toward ensuring that broadcasters can’t easily pull the plug on consumers during business negotiations.  With the most retrans blackouts in a decade last year and 2011 already on a pace for even more, there is clearly a need to disarm the broadcasters of this bullying tactic.

Don’t Expand Notice Requirements – Forcing “notice” to consumers a month before an agreement expires unfairly strengthens the hand of broadcasters in negotiations and does not really provide a benefit to viewers.  With the rising tide of blackouts, switching providers today is no guarantee that new providers will not face a blackout tomorrow.

Use Existing Power to Protect Consumers– Contrary to the NPRM, the FCC does have broad authority under Section 325 to protect consumers, including through interim carriage of a broadcast signal during a retransmission consent negotiation.  And as the NPRM recognizes, the FCC has ample authority to enhance its good faith negotiation requirements to preclude unproductive gamesmanship.

This week’s comment deadline is a major milestone in the quest to reform outdated rules that have constrained the free market and hurt consumers.  We urge the FCC to enact meaningful reform that brings the regulations into the 21st Century and protects consumers.