ACA Connects was celebrating, generally, the inclusion of a buying groups provision in the STELAR reauthorization bill that passed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, a provision it has pushed for for years, but it took issue with some restrictions added in the process of reaching bipartisan agreement.
The bill allows buying groups, notably the National Cable Television Cooperative, to have the same good faith benefits and responsibilities under the law as individual cable operators. But there are limits on the scope of those groups, limits ACA Connects said will "restrain trade and harm consumers."
“We thank the Committee for recognizing the benefits of extending the Federal Communications Commission’s good faith rules to retransmission consent negotiations between large broadcast stations groups and buying groups that represent small and medium sized pay-TV providers," said ACA Connects president Matt Polka, adding: “We’re pleased that the buying group provision in the bill adopted today includes a framework for providing good faith protections to buying groups."
But there was a "but." "[W]e we are disappointed in the metrics that limit the number of subscribers who can benefit and reduce the large station groups that are covered," he added.
Polka outlined the problematic provisions, saying that the bill:
• "Caps the number of subscribers of an MVPD eligible to participate in the buying group to 500,000 subscribers, excluding MVPDs that regularly participate in buying group deals;
• "Limits the buying group from representing more than 25 percent of households in a single market of a large station group, excluding smaller MVPDs especially in smaller markets from participating in buying group deals;
• "Arbitrarily restricts the number of large station groups that must negotiate with a buying group to only those with a national audience reach of more than 20 percent, which includes only 12 station groups. It means a broadcast station group like Disney, with 8 stations, is included, but other broadcast station groups like Hearst, which owns 32 full power stations, are excluded;
• "Delays buying groups from taking advantage of the rules until next year; and
• "Imposes other restrictions on buying groups with regard to their negotiations with broadcasters that are not obligations on buying groups with respect to their talks with cable programmers."
The bill must still be reconciled with a House Judiciary Committee bill reauthorizing the satellite distant-signal compulsory license, passed by the full House and reconciled with a Senate bill or bills, all by the end of the year, when the STELAR law expires.