The National Cable Television Cooperative sent a letter this week asking its members to write to the White House asking the Obama administration to initiate a process to update the retransmission consent system. The petition drive originated with NCTC and American Cable Association member Mediacom, which has sent a letter to its subscribers to join in writing to the White House, and also has the support of the ACA.

According to a letter from NCTC President and CEO Rich Fickle that was shared with Telecompetitor, the White House has agreed “to review the petition, ensure it is sent to the appropriate policy experts and issue an official response,” if at least 25,000 people sign the petition by this Thursday, December 8.  Fickle asks recipients to encourage staff, friends and family to join in the petition drive.

The petition, available online, notes that the laws and regulations governing broadcast television have not been updated in 20 years. “Even though technical barriers have been eliminated, consumers remain trapped by artificially drawn geographic boundaries that give broadcast stations monopoly powers over network and syndicated programming in their respective markets,” the petition states. “This government-constructed marketplace has stifled competition and innovation, limited consumer choice, led to threatened and actual blackouts of must-have programming, and dramatically driven up the cable and satellite rates.”

In the letter to NCTC members encouraging them to support the petition drive, Fickle commends the work that the American Cable Association has done in providing informational resources and legal support involving retransmission consent issues. To illustrate, he cites an information section about retransmission consent on the ACA web site.

“Broadcasters charge smaller cable operators retransmission consent fees as much as 20 times more than what the largest distributors pay,” notes the ACA in the information section. “There is no justification for the price discrimination faced by small cable operators because the retransmission is costless for the broadcast station owner.”

The ACA also notes that cable operators that refuse to accept the higher charge are in danger of having their signals from local broadcasters dropped. Accordingly the ACA says it is supporting a “quiet period” between broadcasters and cable operators during the upcoming round of retransmission consent negotiations to prevent broadcasters from removing their signals from an operator’s system.

Meanwhile, an information section on Mediacom’s website details that company’s grievances – noting, for example, that the company’s local broadcast and live sports programming expenses are escalating “at a pace well in excess of inflation.” The letter argues that “Outdated federal laws give the local broadcast stations monopoly power over network and syndicated programming within their respective market areas . . . forcing American consumers to pay billions of dollars for ‘free’ over-the-air television.”

Although small rural cable companies and small rural telcos offering IPTV often are at odds with one another, one area where they clearly have found common ground is in their opposition to retransmission consent regulations.

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