ACA letter backs proposed 'quiet period' for retransmission consent

The association representing thousands of small- and medium-sized cable operators expressed support July 8 for a petition filed in April with the FCC seeking a “modest quiet period for retransmission consent” prior to and following the Feb. 17, 2009, DTV transition.

In a letter from American Cable Association (ACA) president and CEO Matthew Polka to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, the association asserted that such a period, during which the status quo of existing retransmission consent agreements is maintained, would “avert the harm to consumers if broadcasters withdraw signals during the critical months before and after the transition.”

On April 24, ACA members Mediacom Communications and GCI Cable proposed the commission impose the quiet period until May 31, 2009. Thousands of consent agreements are due to expire Dec. 31, and the association fears broadcasters may remove their channels from cable carriage as a negotiating tactic only a month and a half before the DTV transition.

“Given the increasingly contentious nature of retransmission consent negotiations and broadcasters’ increasing willingness to pull signals from smaller cable systems, the intersection of the retransmission consent cycle and the end of analog broadcast signals creates a substantial risk of consumer confusion, frustration, and harm,” the ACA letter said.

In the letter, Polka told the commission it already possesses “ample authority” to impose a quiet period. Citing the commission’s DTV Education Order, Polka said the FCC stated it “is statutorily required to promote the orderly transition of full-power stations from analog to digital television” and does not need Congressional authority to take any specific step in the DTV transition because it has “general authority to promulgate rules to advance the transition.”

“There is no reason why disputes over retransmission consent agreements should impede the vitally important goal of a smooth digital transition,” Polka said in the letter.

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