WASHINGTON — A proposed multiyear look at video and other communications-reform legislation appears to have lit a fire under efforts for more near-term fixes, though ones with long odds of making it into law.
It has also brought the National Cable & Telecommunications Association a little closer to the retransmission fray — in a move that looks a bit like Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s veer into the field of play to impede the runner.
On the news two weeks ago that the House Energy & Commerce Committee was planning to take a deep dive into communications-reform legislation that would include a year’s worth of hearings and studies before any action, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) had signaled that should not prevent reforms of the 1992 Cable Act that needed more immediate attention.
House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had signaled the deep-dive approach was a better venue than the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) for dealing with broader video reforms like retransmission consent.
True to his word, Scalise last week reintroduced his Next-Generation Television Marketplace Act, a bill that would take a chainsaw to what he sees as outdated and counterproductive regulation.
Features would include repealing compulsory copyright licenses, must-carry and must-buy regulations and some local-media ownership limits.
On the same day, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), introduced her long telegraphed Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act, after having circulated a draft in September. Eshoo is another legislator not looking to wait years for overarching reforms.
Eshoo’s bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (DCalif.), would prevent retransmission blackouts, remove the must-buy status of retransmitted stations on cable systems, and unbundle owned or affiliated cable networks from TV stations in retransmission deals.
The American Television Alliance, which includes cable companies Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks, has been taking the point on retransmission, along with the American Cable Association.
The ATVA praised the bills, talking about the “escalating harm to consumers” from the retrans system and listing the growing number of blackouts.
The ACA took the strongest tack, seeing the ATVA’s consumer “harm” argument and raising it, chipping in a statement about broadcasters’ relentless abuse of outdated retransmission-consent rules.
The National Association of Broadcasters, in contrast, slammed both bills.
Neither bill is seen as likely to make it to President Obama’s desk, even with what seemed to be a more bipartisan tone in Washington last week. A budget deal was reached, and agreement was found on bipartisan legislation to reform the FCC and pay government spectrum holders to share or relinquish spectrum.
Everybody Wants to Get Into the Act(s)
Video-reform bills were coming out of the well-polished Capitol Hill woodwork last week, seemingly in response to a plan to roll up such issues into an omnibus communications law reboot that could take years.
The Video CHOICE Act: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) wants “to eliminate broadcast television blackouts and give consumers greater flexibility to choose the channels they receive each month from their cable, satellite or other pay TV provider.” For the particulars, visit multichannel.com/Dec.16.
The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has reintroduced this bill, his periodic effort to update the 1992 Cable Act by getting rid of the compulsory copyright licenses and must-carry regulations.
The Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act: From Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), this bill would amend the 1992 Cable Act to allow franchise fees for PEG channels to apply to salaries; attempt to get cable ops to make those channels as accessible as local TV stations (rather than, say, making them subchannels under a generic guide heading); and ensure cable ops still pony up the bucks to support them with 2% of their gross revenue.
Reacting to the possibility that omnibus communications law reform may be on the horizon, a number of shorter-term approaches were offered in video-reform bills last week.