Broadcasters, cable lock horns over retransmission consent

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on behalf of the NAB, broadcasters, WDBJ president and general manager Bob Lee told a sparsely attended hearing that retransmission consent is working and the consumers have been “the ultimate beneficiaries.”

Lee was among several witnesses to testify Jan. 31 during a committee hearing on the video distribution marketplace attended by committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-SD).

Lee referenced a September 2005 report from the FCC that recommended no changes be made to the existing structure and that the system was fair. Pointing the Linn Broadcasting and Belo, Lee pointed out that broadcasters often use retransmission consent to obtain carriage of additional local channels and in doing so better serve their local audiences.

The committee also heard from Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association (ACA). The ACA contended that retransmission consent is harming its 1100 independent cable operators, most of which serve 8 million consumers in small, rural communities.

Research from the ACA conducted by Arlen Communications identifies how television broadcasters and networks use current regulations to “impede competition and increase retransmission consent costs.”

According to the ACA, current federal rules let broadcasters demand cash or other economic consideration, such as forced carriage of affiliated programming channels, for carriage of their channels. At the same time, broadcasters rely on other FCC rules to prevent cable operators from shopping for lower-cost alternatives. The result is the addition of hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of basic cable service, the group said.

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