Prompted by his concerns that New York viewers could lose access to the Academy Awards and other WABC-TV programming, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) has asked the Federal Communications Commission to step into the retrans fray, citing what he says is a "lack of oversight over the retransmission-consent system [that] has allowed an increasing number of these disputes."
He called viewers pawns in game of dividing up millions of dollars between the two companies: "Sadly, it is no coincidence that this deadline coincides with the morning of the Oscar broadcast, annually one of the most-watched programs. Again, the consumer winds up held hostage as a result,"
In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, Engel said his immediate concern was that the March 7 deadline WABC has given Cablevision, "whereby a great number of my constituents will lose access to the ABC network."
But he invoked the December stand-off between Time Warner and Fox and Sinclair and Mediacom in pointing out that a "previous dispute" had threatened broadcasts of college bowl games.
"This situation is unacceptable. We cannot continue to allow constituents to be held hostage during business negotiations over retransmission consent," he said, echoing a complaint by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has also suggested that retransmission-consent system needs fixing.
"I respectfully request that the Federal Communications Commission investigate the current system, and provide a regulatory fix which will allow broadcasters to receive fair compensation for their product, while not charging cable and satellite providers or my constituents outrageously high rates," he said. "The current situation is harmful to cable and satellite providers, harmful to broadcasters, and most of all, harmful to my constituents."
A spokesman for the chairman had no comment. The FCC does not routinely comment on letters from Congress. The FCC is in contact with Cablevision and WABC, an FCC source told Multichannel News.