COMPTEL Seeks Senate Video Hearing

Wants Congress to Vet Retransmission Consent

WASHINGTON — Groups representing competitive telecommunications carriers have asked Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) to hold a hearing about what they said are failures in the video marketplace that need addressing — including a revamp of retransmission-consent rules they said allow broadcasters a programming “stranglehold.”

The groups, including NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and COMPTEL, have argued that access to video is directly related to the issue of broadband deployment, which is the prime directive of communications policy these days.

"[T]he retransmission-consent regime is more than 20 years old and reflects an era with very different marketplace realities," the trade groups said in a letter to Thune. "This regime gives broadcast stations a stranglehold over access to programming and prevents providers from negotiating market-based rates for programming. As a result, consumers face blackouts of channels and ever escalating video costs."

They also want the committee to look at the practice of program tying and bundling, which they have long argued "impede the ability of consumers to avail themselves of alternative choices."

They are likely preaching to the choir, at least when it comes to holding a hearing. The Senate Commerce Committee is widely expected to take the lead on video competition issues in a planned bicameral review of communications law with an eye toward updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act. There has been talk around Washington of a July video hearing.

Thune has already shown his interest in remaking retrans. Along with former Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), he proposed a Local Choice plan that would have made allowed subs to negotiate directly with broadcasters over whether or not they wanted to pay the per-subscriber fee for carriage of retransmission consent stations.