FCC Can Act on Retrans


After asking each side
to defend the good faith
of its bargaining, the
Federal Communications
Commission last
week said it would
continue to monitor the
retransmission standoff
between News Corp.’s
Fox Networks and
Cablevision Systems.
The FCC’s ability to
act when programming
comes off multichannel-
TV distributors in a
retransmission impasse
is a key issue in this
standoff. Cablevision
and its allies urged the
FCC to order a remedy,
while others say the
commission can’t do
that. Steven Teplitz,
Time Warner Cable’s
senior vice president of
government relations
and a former FCC attorney,
told Multichannel
News Washington
bureau chief John Eggerton
the agency has
the power to act, and
should do so.

MCN: One analyst
recently suggested that
the FCC’s only authority
in retransmission
consent debates is to
ensure that the parties
negotiate “in good
faith,” and that even
then it doesn’t have
much authority to act.
Do you agree?

Steven Teplitz:
There is
a growing misconception
that the FCC is powerless
to act to address what we
think is a growing retrans
problem. I think that is
simply not true. Congress
granted the FCC broad
and direct authority to
establish rules in this
area. The Communications
Act says, “The FCC
shall establish regulations
to govern the exercise
of broadcast stations
for the right to grant retransmission
That is about as broad
and direct as it gets.

As part of that same
section, the commission
was directed to consider
the impact of retransmission-
consent rules on basic-
cable rates and make
sure that any retrans
rules did not conflict with
keeping basic rates reasonable.
The petition filed
jointly by a number of parties
[including TWC] that
called on the FCC to review
the existing retrans
regime laid out the ability
for them to do that, as well
as a filing that we made in
support of that. The FCC
can address this if they
choose to do that.

MCN: That that sounds
like something down
the road in a rulemaking.
What can the FCC
do about retransmission
impasses now?

ST: Th e good-faith rules
are primarily process
rules, but the FCC probably
has pretty broad
powers if there is some
kind of violation that is
found to address it. It
hasn’t really come up,
because in the past,
there weren’t very many
of these cases that were
litigated all the way
through. But I do think
they could go ahead and
fashion a remedy. But
they have not seemed
willing to engage on
the “good faith” front,
or what we think is the
more pressing point,
which is to go forward
with a rulemaking to set
up a better framework.

MCN: Do you see any
movement at the FCC
on the petition?

ST: We are hoping that
with all the light shed
on the problem because
of the Cablevision/Fox
situation, and the letter
from Sen. John Kerry
[D-Mass.] and other
members of Congress
[seeking changes to retransmission
hopefully the FCC
will take a pretty hard
look at it.