Britt: FCC Has Failed to Act to Stem Retrans Disruptions

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Time Warner Cable chairman Glenn Britt plans to tell members of the Senate Communications Subcommittee that, despite support for the MSO's petition at the Federal Communications Commission for retrans reforms, with the "continued occurrence of disruption," the agency "has failed to act."

That is according a copy of Britt's prepared testimony for the Nov. 17 hearing in that subcommittee on retransmission consent. Britt says that the FCC was wrong to suggest it did not have the power to protect consumers from the fallout from retransmission consent fights.

The chairman of the subcommittee, John Kerry (D-Mass.) has called for retrans reforms. In supporting a congressional review of the process, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said that under the present system "the FCC has very few tools with which to protect consumers' interests in the retransmission consent process."

Time Warner Cable chairman Glenn Britt

Britt and Time Warner Cable disagree. In a recent interview with Multichannel News, Time Warner Cable senior vice president Steven Teplitz said Congress gave the FCC "broad and direct authority" over retrans rules. "The Communications Act says, 'The FCC shall establish regulations to govern the exercise of broadcast stations for the right to grant retransmission consent,'" Teplitz said. "That is about as broad and direct as it gets."

Britt says consumers are "bearing the brunt" of FCC inaction that has allowed broadcasters to put those consumers "in harms way" during negotiations. Maintaining the tough rhetoric, Britt adds that broadcasters are willing to hold their viewers "hostage," viewers who "needlessly suffer" from misleading advertising even when there is no disruption.

Echoing the testimony of Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge, Britt said he was all for the free market negotiations broadcasters have asked the FCC and Congress to stay out of. But, also like Rutledge, his point is that the negotiations are not in a free market.

"Retransmission-consent negotiations are conducted under a thicket of outdated regulations," he says, and is only one of a number of special privileges that also includes "must carry rights, territorial exclusivity protection, a guaranteed right to basic tier carriage and, of course, the broadcasters' free use of the public airwaves."

Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and other cable operators have joined with telco and satellite companies to petition the FCC to step in to mandate outside arbitration and keep TV station signals on the air during impasses. The FCC collected public input on the issue, but has not acted on the petition.

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