McDowell Cautions FCC About Getting Into Arbitration Business

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FCC commissioner Robert McDowell suggested the agency needs to tread carefully in its inquiry into the retransmission-consent process, saying suggestions it get into the arbitration business might not sit well with the courts.

In a meeting with reporters Friday April 23 at the FCC in Washington, McDowell said that the 1992 Cable Act is clear that simply asking for more money does not constitute bad faith, and that the FCC is confined by statute to looking at whether retrans negotiations are being conducted in good or bad faith. "The statute is actually very clear" on that point, he said.

McDowell also pointed out that the "vast majority" of retrans deals are done without incident. "We want to continue to encourage parties to come to agreement on their own. I do have concerns that if the commission set up a regime for arbitration here at the commission, that that might not survive on appeal."

A group of cable operators and satellite companies petitioned the FCC to remake the retrans regime, including preventing stations from pulling signals during retrans impasses, possible outside arbitration and even mandating unbundling station retrans deals from co-owned cable channels.