ACA Backs Bill That Could Lead to End of Exclusive Local TV Signals

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Monterey, Calif. -- The American Cable Association is backing legislation that would have the effect of ending the exclusivity of local broadcast television signals in 98 markets across the country.

The Television Freedom Act of 2007, by Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), “would allow us to take out-of-market stations and bring them into local markets to give us true local-market service,” ACA vice president of government affairs Ross Lieberman said.

The bill, introduced in June, would change the “distant-signal” rules that currently apply to local television broadcasting.

Cable operators are currently precluded from importing signals from TV stations that are not in the designated market area where a system is based.

But under the TV Freedom Act, the rules would change for markets that cross state lines. In effect, a cable operator could import signals, for instance, from West Virginia or Pennsylvania into Washington, D.C., Lieberman said, in order to offer customers “true” local TV news and information.

The choice would give cable operators greater leverage in negotiations with local broadcasters. If an operator was providing its local subscribers signals of ABC stations, for instance, in two different states, the operator would have greater negotiating power because the broadcaster in one state would no longer have exclusive access to the cable system’s subscribers.

“That is not the intent,” Lieberman said of the end to broadcasters’ exclusivity in local markets. “But it would have the effect.”

At least in the 98 markets that straddle state lines -- in those markets, cable operators would have an alternative for customers if negotiations to retransmit one signal from a local TV station foundered over fees for carrying that signal.

That choice, in cross-state markets, could lead eventually to a nationwide end to exclusivity. Operators in other markets, long-term, could pursue legislation that would change rules on distant signals in any state, based on this change in importation, Lieberman acknowledged.

The bill, in effect, would “soften” market assignments made by Nielsen Media Research and allow Ross’ southern Arkansas district to watch games of the Arkansas Razorbacks, instead of the LSU Tigers, for instance.

But the legislation is only a start; The Federal Communications Commission would also have to change rules on the duplication of network programming.

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