FCC Media Bureau Chief Tells Fox and Cablevision Execs to Prove ‘Good Faith’

WASHINGTON: FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake last week told the top executives at Cablevision and Fox to pony up evidence they’re negotiating a retransmission agreement in “good faith.” Lake dispatched a letter to News Corp. chief Chase Carey and Cablevision’s James Dolan, noting Congress’s directive that they do so. News Corp. pulled three TV stations and three cable networks off of Cablevision systems a week ago, affecting around 3 million subscribers in and around New York. (See “FCC Issues Directive for Cablevision Subscribers.”)

Lake wrote:

“Dear Messrs. Carey and Dolan:

We are deeply concerned about the impact of your current retransmission consent dispute on consumers in Cablevision’s service area. As Chairman Genachowski has stressed, both parties share responsibility for consumer disruption caused by your unwillingness to reach a deal. We are troubled, as the chairman said, ‘that Cablevision and Fox are spending more time attacking each other through ads and lobbyists than sitting down at the negotiating table.’ I know that you are aware that both broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) have a statutory duty to engage in ‘good faith’ negotiations.

“The commission has stated its belief that ‘by imposing the good faith obligation, Congress intended that . . . broadcasters and MVPDs meet to negotiate retransmission consent and that such negotiations are conducted in an atmosphere of honesty, purpose and clarity of process.’

“We ask each of you to describe to us how your company is satisfying this important statutory obligation in the context of your retransmission consent negotiations. In particular, we request that you describe with specificity what has transpired since you initially began your negotiations, and detail the efforts your company is making to end the current impasse.

“If you are aware of any conduct by the other side that you believe violates the good faith requirement, please so indicate and provide supporting evidence. Please submit this information to me by the close of business Monday, Oct. 25, 2010.

“As you know, your contract dispute extends beyond just Fox and Cablevision. Indeed, it affects millions of innocent consumers who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption.

“We urge you to place the interests of these consumers first and conclude your negotiations promptly. Please call me as soon as possible if you have any questions about this letter.”