FCC Is Facing Fall Retrans Rush

Publish date:

Washington —In the runup
to the raft of retransmissionconsent
deals coming due this
fall, there has been some renewed
activity on that front at
the Federal Communications
Commission, at least when it
comes to industry players making
their case for why the system
is either broken or just fine,
thank you.

Typically, the issue doesn’t
heat up until the FCC starts
getting calls from lawmakers
about missed college-football
bowl games and awards shows.
With an open and unresolved
rulemaking proposal on retrans,
though, chairman Julius
Genachowski may be looking
to do something by December,
even if it is only to clarify the definition of good-faith bargaining
— the sort of “around the edges” move he has signaled
is within the FCC’s authority.

One FCC commissioner aide,
speaking on background, said
that it would not be a surprise if
the commission took action to get
ahead of those calls — or if the
chairman chose not to act by the
end of the year.

Just in case there is a fire under
that burner — or perhaps to light
one — DirecTV and Time Warner
Cable teamed up for a meeting
earlier this month with Sherrise
Smith, legal adviser to Genachowski,
to suggest that a clearer definition
of a more consumer-friendly
balanced negotiation would be
one in which exclusivity rules were
waived during impasses to let multichannel
providers import distant-
TV signals. The FCC has suggested
it might allow that, though broadcasters
have countered that distant-
signal importation would be
a nuclear option that sticks the FCC in the middle of a
marketplace negotiation.

Executives from Charter Communication also met with
Smith to argue that the FCC had ample authority to implement
new retransmission rules. They also put in a pitch
for prohibiting collective retransmission negotiations
by multiple stations via local marketing agreements or
shared services agreements. Charter’s idea of good-faith
negotiating includes the FCC imposing transparency and
nondiscrimination conditions, and preventing tying retransmission
deals with carriage of other channels.

Genachowski has indicated previously the FCC’s authority
was limited
and he was reluctant
to get into negotiations
between private

Cable operators
have argued the FCC
has the authority if it
will just use it, and
that the government
is already involved
in those market negotiations
its syndicated exclusivity
rules, network
rules, and must-carry rules, all of which aff ect the balance
of bargaining power.

A spokesman for the chairman had no comment on
whether retransmission rule changes or clarifications
would be voted on by year-end.