The FCC is getting set to take a small step toward tackling the thorny problem of retransmission consent disputes. Prior to today’s monthly FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on the topic.

Retransmission consent rules require pay-TV providers such as cable companies, satellite TV providers and telecom companies that provide cable-like offerings to carry local broadcast TV stations. The pay-TV providers must compensate the broadcasters for retransmission rights, and those negotiations can be challenging, as the pay-TV providers have no leverage to walk away from the deal.

Pay-TV provider customers have in many cases lost the ability to watch certain TV content when parties have not been able to reach carriage agreements in a timely fashion. These ‘blackouts’ have become increasingly common over the past few years. Rising retransmission costs have also contributed to a challenging business case for pay-TV in general. Some traditional pay-tv providers are choosing to exit the business entirely.

FCC Retransmission Consent Dispute Resolution
The NPRM seeks to clarify certain aspects related to the statute of limitations involving program carriage disputes and any review of decisions about program carriage disputes made by an FCC administrative law judge (ALJ). The NPRM proposes that in cases where a pay-TV provider has denied or failed to acknowledge a request for program carriage, the statute of limitations is triggered by that action, rather than by a notice of intent to file a complaint on that basis.

It also proposes to harmonize the review process of ALJ decisions regarding program carriage, program access and certain other complaints with other commission review procedures. The goal would be to make procedures more consistent and to encourage the timely resolution of various types of retransmission consent disputes, the FCC said in a press release.

In a separate NPRM, the FCC seeks to modernize procedures for determining whether a TV station outside a pay-TV provider’s primary broadcast market is “significantly viewed” by people in the market who watch TV over the air. Without that designation, pay-TV providers are not allowed to carry stations from broadcast networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox if the provider already carries a station affiliated with that network in its primary broadcast market.

The commission notes that current procedures may be outmoded and may even be impossible to follow, as the required data about over-the-air viewership may no longer be commercially available.

Some stakeholders have suggested that pay-TV providers should be allowed to obtain broadcast network content from stations outside their primary broadcast market as a means of obtaining greater leverage with local broadcasters. The NPRM wouldn’t open up this possibility, however, as it wouldn’t eliminate the requirement to carry local stations, even if an out-of-market station carrying the same network content was deemed to be “significantly viewed” in the pay-TV provider’s service area.

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One thought on “FCC Takes a Small Step Toward Resolving Retransmission Consent Disputes

  1. Retransmission consent was a nightmare from the beginning. TV stations' allegations that cable was "altering" their signal were of course baseless as we did nothing but receive the signal via an antenna and amplify it for carriage on our cable system, but the FCC for some odd reason sided with the TV stations, even though they cannot give a sensible description of what alterations to the signal are being made. Changing frequency or converting an analog signal to digital does nothing to the actual content the TV station is sending out. Cable never added or removed one second of that content, it was just in/out.

    As the article states, it caused our cable company to exit the business of video completely, switching to being solely an internet service provider, and we have not looked back at all, it was perhaps the best decision we have ever made in our company's history. Yes, we have tons of bandwidth capability sitting unused, but we were able to buy the fastest data backbone we could afford and upgrade our cable modem service to DOCSIS 3 and are looking at future upgrades. All while not losing a single customer! And now we hear that a lot of our former video customers are cord-cutting and dumping Dish and DirecTV because the programming they carry has degraded to the point there is nothing to watch except 100+ shopping channels and other channels whose programming no longer has anything to do with that the channel name is. We got out at just the right time.

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