Taxpayers Union Seeks Broad Retrans Reform

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The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has advised the Senate Communications Subcommittee not to focus on "rearranging the regulatory deck chairs" in its hearing this week on retransmission consent, but instead to look at more comprehensive reform.

Rather than put the Federal Communications Commission's thumb more heavily on the scale, the group argued in a release Nov. 12, Congress should look at creating a system that "allows both television service providers and content providers to operate in a truly free and open negotiation environment."

Rearranging the deck chairs is a reference to suggestions by some cable operators and Subcommittee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) that the FCC get involved in arbitration, either itself or by mandating outside arbitration, and impose standstill agreements that prevent TV station signals from being pulled, say, just before the World Series, as happened with the recent Fox/Cablevision dispute.

NTU executive vice president Pete Sepp told Multichannel News that just focusing on Fox/Cablevision is the wrong way to look at it. "Hearings like these, that focus on one event, an outcome in the Northeast, are just not well suited to revising the law the way it needs to be. This is not likely to result in much more than political theater."

He said Congress should take a hard look at the 1992 Cable Act and 1996 Telecommunications Act rewrite to "find a way that more properly allows for negotiations to take place against both sides that are as equally empowered as possible."

NTU's dog in the fight: consumers, whom the group says deserve smaller government and more open marketplaces.
"I called on the legislators at the hearing to untangle the complicated web of preferences and regulations that have made a mess of television retransmission consent negotiations, rather than resorting to greater government intervention in the marketplace," said Sepp.

Among those scheduled to testify at the hearing is Glenn Britt, head of Time Warner Cable, which has petitioned the FCC to step in to mandate arbitration and standstill agreements.

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