Deborah D. McAdams / 07.24.2012 01:16PM
NRB Urges Lawmakers to Retain Must-Carry
Retrans battle plays out on the Hill
WASHINGTON: Fur will fly
today on Capitol Hill as broadcasters, cable operators and interested others
make their case for or against retransmission consent law. Retrans negotiations
have become increasingly contentious such that channel blackouts play out in
high-profile public relations wars. The most recent standoffs were between
cable network titan Viacom and satellite TV provider DirecTV; and Time Warner
Cable and Hearst TV stations.
The Senate Commerce Committee today will hear witnesses testify on “The Cable
Act at 20,” the law enacted two decades ago that establishes the rules
governing network carriage by pay TV operators.
“I want to take a close look at how we make sure that consumers do not continue
to get caught in the crossfire in programming disputes, facing dark screens and
losing access to news, sports, and other entertainment programming,” said John
D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.), chairman of the committee.
1992 Cable Act established the rules that assure cable and satellite operators
have access to programming on a “nondiscriminatory” basis. Broadcasters can
either elect must-carry and receive no fees for their signals, or negotiate
payments via retransmission consent.
Smaller stations typically opt for must-carry, as Dr. Frank Wright, president
and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters pointed out today in a message
encourage senators to recognize the important place of these ministries for TV
consumers and to uphold sound and unobtrusive must-carry law,” Wright said.
“Must-carry law enables many local television broadcast stations, including
religious stations, to be viewed on pay TV platforms”
In passing the law in 1992, Wright said “Congress then found that cable systems
have an ‘economic incentive’ to ‘delete, reposition, or not carry local
broadcast signals’ and that, without must-carry rules, the “viability’ of
broadcasters ‘will be seriously jeopardized.’”
He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Cable Act in 1997. He said that
repealing must-carry would be “fatal to many Christian TV stations.”
Wright is not on today’s witness list, which includes Melinda Witmer of Time
Warner Cable, Colleen Abdoulah of WOW! Internet, Cable and Phone; Marty Franks
of CBS, Gordon Smith of the National Association of Broadcasters, Dr. Mark
Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America, and Preston Padden, a former
broadcaster who is now adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School
Today’s hearing is a
follow-up to one held by the committee in April
on broadband video distribution, at which Aereo backer Barry Diller testified.
Aereo is the New York startup retransmitting broadcast signals to mobile
devices without having first obtained retransmission consent. Broadcasters have
sued; a federal court has denied their request for a preliminary injunction.
It also follows on one held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee
on Communications and Technology on June
27, in which members heard testimony regarding retrains law as well as the
legality of the Hopper, a new Dish Network set-top box that can be set to skip
commercials on broadcast networks during prime time. Lawmakers in the House
said it was unlikely that a reform of the 1992 Cable Act would make it through
the current Congress.
~ Deborah D. McAdams