ACA Chair Abdoulah: Overhaul Cable Act


American Cable Association chair Colleen Abdoulah plans to tell the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday that the 1992 Cable Act is outdated and due for an overhaul, citing hundreds of smaller cable operators who have gone out of business due primarily to programming costs.

Among her recommendations for updates are baseball-style arbitration and no-blackout policies for retrans impasses and, in an apparent nod to Aereo and others, allowing pay-TV providers to employ "new and innovative technologies that allow consumers to receive broadcast signals over-the-air," rather than paying for them via retrans consent.

According to her written testimony for the July 24 Commerce Committee hearing on the Act 20 years later, she says the law assumes a world of only cable operators and broadcasters rather than one with phones and laptops and tablets and smart devices.

Abdoulah wrote that assumption has resulted in real consumer harms including failed retrans negotiations and blackouts, skyrocketing fees for broadcaster-labeled "free-over-the-air TV, collusion among stations to drive those prices higher, and bundling by increasingly consolidated networks of unwanted, unwatched and unmarketable programming."

She also said that online video distribution rights are being "slow-rolled" by content providers giving consumers "little choice for online video."

The WOW leader said the "distortions" caused by outdated rules fall particularly hard on the smaller and rural operators ACA represents. "Since 2008," she says, "nearly 800 of these small systems have closed across the country due in large part to escalating retransmission consent and programming costs that cannot be passed along to consumers, a trend I fear will continue in many rural communities."

Abdoulah comes armed with some solutions:

"Prohibiting coordinated negotiations by separately owned broadcasters in the same market;
*Ensuring continued carriage of signals during a retransmission consent dispute in order to stop consumers from being held hostage by blackouts;
*Requiring binding baseball-style commercial arbitration of such disputes; and,
*Authorizing consumers and pay-TV providers to employ new and innovative technologies that allow consumers to receive broadcast signals over-the-air as an alternative to receiving and paying for that content through retransmission consent."