Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski has endorsed a congressional review of retransmission-consent rules, suggesting changes could include mandatory mediation and binding arbitration.
Genachowski wrote a letter to Senate Communications subcommittee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has proposed legislation to revamp the system. It came amid calls by some that the FCC step in and help break the current impasse between Fox Networks and Cablevision Systems, the cable provider in the New York City area. Fox programming has been off Cablevision since a prior, one-year extension expired on Oct. 15.
"I agree with you that recent events raise issues of real concern. Negotiations between broadcasters and pay television providers have become increasingly fractious and we are now in the midst of an impasse resulting in a sustained blackout. I share your concern that the current system relegates television viewers to pawns between companies battling over retransmission fees," Genachowski said in the letter, released by Kerry.
"Under the present system, the FCC has very few tools with which to protect consumers' interests in the retransmission consent process. Congress granted the FCC limited ability to encourage agreement by ensuring that the paIties negotiate in good faith," Genachowski continued. "But current law does not give the agency the tools necessary to prevent service disruptions. Accordingly, I agree that it is time for Congress to revisit the current retransmission law and assess whether changes in the marketplace call for new tools to strike the appropriate balance of private negotiations and consumer protection. Such tools might include, for example, mandatory mediation and binding arbitration, which could prevent the kind of unfortunate stalemat that now exists between Cablevision and Fox."
He also said the FCC would "continue to push Fox and Cablevision to resolve their dispute."
"The FCC today made it clear they agree Congress must revisit the current retransmission law and assess whether changes in the marketplace call for reform," Kerry said.