ACA Rips Big Media


Small cable systems are being forced to drop TV stations, which hurts
consumers in rural areas due to retransmission-consent abuses by media
conglomerates, the American Cable Association charged in a filing with federal
officials this week.

The ACA leveled its charges against companies -- such as The Walt Disney Co.,
Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., Cox Enterprises Inc., Fox Television Stations
Inc. and the Gannett Broadcasting Group -- in reply comments to the Federal
Communications Commission's review of broadcast-ownership rules.

The ACA, which represents small systems with 7.5 million homes, charged that
broadcasters are demanding cash-for-carriage for their TV stations this year,
creating a flurry of standoffs in which a number of small systems -- such as
Country Cable TV in Pennsylvania -- are for the first time are being forced to
drop broadcast signals.

Small systems have "lost access" to stations owned by Cox, Gannett and
Hearst-Argyle as a result, according to the ACA.

Cash-for-carriage carries a potential cost to rural consumers of more than
$172 million per year for formerly "free" TV, the ACA claimed.

"In short, retransmission consent has become a scheme for media conglomerates
to transfer wealth from rural consumers and small companies to corporate
headquarters in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta," the ACA said in its

The lobbying group is asking the FCC to probe alleged retransmission-consent
abuses and to change 'archaic' market-protection rules -- namely
network-nonduplication and syndicated-exclusivity rules.

"For smaller cable operators and smaller-market consumers, retransmission
consent has become a vise," the ACA charged in its most recent filing. "On one
side of the vise are a handful of media conglomerates -- Disney, Fox,
Hearst-Argyle, Gannett and a few others -- with ever-increasing demands.
Squeezed in the middle are smaller cable operators and consumers."

The ACA listed instances in which small cable systems have had to drop TV
stations because they are unwilling to pay the broadcasters' license fees --
ranging from 15 cents to $1 per subscriber, per month -- for carriage.

The ACA also cited what it described as "take it or leave it" tying
arrangements, claiming that Hearst-Argyle is linking consent for its TV stations
to carriage of Lifetime Television and Lifetime Movie Network, for