Retransmission Letters Fly on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON: Retransmission is becoming a popular topic of correspondence on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are circulating letters among colleagues and firing them off to the FCC. They are asking the agency to open an inquiry into the rules governing satellite and cable carriage ob broadcast signals.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, (D-N.Y.) joined her colleagues Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Peter King, (R-N.Y.) in circulating a letter in the House calling for retrans reform. Maloney also implored FCC chief Julius Genachowski to do likewise in a July 24 letter.

“I am writing on behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who have been and may be negatively affected by retransmission consent disputes between local broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors,” she wrote. “Specifically, cable operators and broadcasters in New York are engaged in complex negotiations to renew existing retransmission consent agreements, some of which are scheduled to expire this summer.”

Said pending expiration is between Time Warner Cable and Disney. The retransmission contract between the two ends Sept. 2.

“If these agreements are not renewed, important programming for many New Yorkers could be dramatically affected. It is not fair to punish consumers for the failure of these companies to reach an agreement, which is why I urge you to take whatever steps are necessary to protect consumers, including my constituents, from losing any programming as a result of these negotiations,” Maloney wrote to Genachowski.

“Finally, I also encourage the commission to move as quickly as possible to update its retransmission consent rules to ensure that consumers will be protected during future renewal negotiations.”

The “Dear Colleague” letter from King and Hill went out as the New York City Council considered a resolution to ask Congress to intervene in retrans. Broadcasters in New York and Washington implored the New York contingent to leave well enough alone. (See “New York Retrans Fight Goes to D.C.”) The King-Hill missive is reported to have signatures of just 13 of the House’s 435 members, according to The Hill.

Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) also circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter urging restraint, according to John Eggerton at Multichannel News.

A handful of legislators weighed in on the FCC docket related to a retrans petition from several multichannel video providers. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wrote to Genchowski July 19 asking simply for a review, rather than reform.

“To be clear, we are not choosing sides in this matter nor are we advocating a specific resolution,” he said.

The FCC has thus far given no indication it will overhaul retransmission consent rules.
-- Deborah D. McAdams
July 22, 2010
: “Lawmakers Urge FCC to Revisit Retransmission”
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wrote a letter to Genachowski dated July 19, requesting a review. Blunt says he’s not choosing horses, but he does want a race. 

July 15, 2010: “New York Broadcasters Band Against City’s Retrans Proposal
“As broadcast stations serving New York City and the metropolitan area, we are deeply concerned about the resolutions and the impact the proposed changes to federal policy could have for New York City area residents.”

July 14, 2010: “Pay TV Alliance Formed to Fight Retrans
The fight over retransmission consent escalated today when a group of pay TV providers joined forces to prohibit broadcasters from pulling signals.