Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the impact of TV station joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared service agreements (SSA's) on consumers.
In a letter dated Monday (May 13), Rockefeller outlines some of the criticisms of the joint agreements leveled by small cable operators and others, including that they inflate retrans rates when those stations coordinate negotiations, driving up subscription fees for consumers, and that they are a way to circumvent local ownership caps.
He pointed out that the FCC years ago imposed limits on radio JSA's, requiring that any station that sold over 15% of the ad time on another would be deemed to have an attributable ownership interest in that station. The FCC tentatively concluded the same should apply to TV.
Rockefeller said that in light of the "serious questions" raised about the impact of those and other coordination arrangements, he wants GAO to take a "closer look" at that coordination, including how broadcasters use the agreements, how many such arrangements there are (he tells GAO he will want to know why they can't determine that if they are unable to), whether the arrangements make programming blackouts more likely or raise costs of services, do they result in more local programming or simply duplication on multiple outlets, what would prevent the FCC from requiring copies of all JSA's and SSA's and other evidence of coordination be placed in a public file, and whether there should be some aspects of them that are regulated.
The letter came on the eve of a Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee hearing on the state of video.