Video operators looking to the FCC to change retransmission consent rules received bad news today. According to a blog post by FCC Chairman Wheeler, no rules changes are needed. That’s somewhat of a victory for broadcasters who held the position that the current rules are working fine.
Retransmission consent disputes are some of the most contentious issues in the video business today. Retransmission consent rules govern the practice of fees paid to broadcasters by video operators on a per subscriber basis for the ability to transmit local broadcast signals.
These fees have been increasing steadily. In many cases dramatically so, creating disputes that can create blackouts of local channels.
Retransmission Consent Rules NPRM
Recognizing the high profile nature of these disputes, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as a part of the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014. Video operators hoped this NPRM may result in rule changes, including the ability to bring in so called distant signals, or signals from other broadcasters if they were in dispute with their local broadcaster.
“Based on the staff’s careful review of the record, it is clear that more rules in this area are not what we need at this point,” said FCC Chairman Wheeler in a blog post outlining the conclusions. “It is hard to get more inclusive than to review the ‘totality of circumstances.’”
The FCC cites that most retransmission consent negotiations occur without incident and therefore rules changes are not necessary. Wheeler makes a point to say this ruling doesn’t mean the FCC won’t intervene in disputes, if they feel the public interest is not being upheld.
“That’s not to say, however, that impasses won’t happen,” said Wheeler. “But when they do, I am prepared to use the authority Congress has conferred on the Commission to help to bring negotiations to a conclusion.”
Wheeler cited the ongoing DISH-Tribune dispute as an example of where and how the FCC may intervene.
“I summoned both parties to Washington to negotiate in coordination with Commission staff,” said Wheeler. “When that step failed to produce an agreement or an extension, the Media Bureau issued comprehensive information requests to both parties to enable FCC staff to determine whether they were meeting their duty to negotiate in good faith; we are reviewing their responses as I write.”
Unless Congress intervenes to mandate changes to these retransmission consent rules, it appears the status quo will remain and disputes and blackouts will certainly continue.