The retrans war of words in Washington continues.
Cable operator Mediacom wants the FCC to require broadcasters to insure that a "very high percentage" of viewers can still get an off-air signal during retrans blackouts and at no expense beyond an "affordable" in-home antenna.
In a Sept. 16 letter to Michelle Ellison, chief of staff to acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, Mediacom senior vice president and general counsel Joseph Young took aim at National Association of Broadcaster president Gordon Smith's assertion that signals were never actually blacked out during impasses since they were always available over the air and on other platforms. "Fundamentally, there is no such thing as a 'black-out' of broadcast TV programming," Smith said. "Our programming is always on, and always available to viewers on multiple platforms, including free to over-the-air antenna households."
Smith was responding to proposed retransmission consent legislation the association opposes.
National Association of Broadcasters witnesses also made that point at two Hill hearings last week, and at least one, a legislator indicated that they were unaware that CBS had still been available over the air during the retrans fight with CBS last month.
Young argued that in many areas off-air reception is not a viable option, and switching to a competitive MVPD can be inconvenient and expensive.
"In sum, NAB's denial that blackouts are possible ignores reality," he wrote. "Given the original intent behind the creation of the retransmission consent right and NAB's own statements, broadcasters should not be permitted to force a blackout unless off-air reception is a meaningful option for most viewers within its licensed territory."
Mediacom has been one of the most vocal critics of the retrans system and advocate for reform. It is a member. along with Time Warner Cable, of the American Television Alliance, which has sought retrans reform from the FCC and Congress. It is a backer of the retrans bill Smith and NAB oppose.
"[W]e repeat the truism that there is indeed no such thing as a 'blackout' of broadcast TV programming," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in response. "Our programming is always on, and always available to viewers on multiple platforms, including free to over-the-air antenna households.
"If Mediacom, Time Warner Cable and others in the pay TV world truly cared about consumers, they would stop ripping off viewers by charging [for] services not provided during a retrans impasse and end the outrageous practice of $200 early termination fees."