TWC Presses FCC on Retrans


WASHINGTON — Looks like CBS got the better of its retransmission- consent fight with Time Warner Cable.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, the nation’s No. 2 cable company said that as a result of the agreement, cable customers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas will be subject to “unreasonable” fees and other terms “for years to come.”

TWC is the party that must levy the fees, but it is understood that at least a portion of any broadcast fee increase is going to be passed along to the customer.

New York-based TWC filed a lengthy comment in the FCC’s open — for a couple of years now — docket on potential changes to its retransmission-consent enforcement regime.

TWC does not want last month’s resolution of its retransmission impasse with CBS to translate to “everything’s fine now.” Given that “years-to-come” impact timeline for the CBS deal, TWC takes the FCC to task for “seem[ing] to take the view that any problems with the CBS dispute are now behind us.”

TWC suggests those problems are clearly visible in the windshield, not just the rearview mirror. “The fundamental problems with retransmission consent remain, and will continue to get worse,” the cable operator said.

As a member of the American Television Alliance, TWC was one of the companies that prompted the FCC to open the docket in the first place, and it is looking for some action. “The commission has abdicated its responsibility to ensure reasonable rates, to police bad-faith negotiating tactics, and to safeguard the public interest more generally.”

In fact, TWC appears more peeved at the FCC than broadcasters, which are understandably operating in their own self-interest. While the rhetoric in the CBS kerfuffle got pretty heated, TWC suggests it is not casting broadcasters, or cable operators for that matter, as the villains in some passion play. “In general, both broadcasters and [multichannel video distributors] act rationally in retransmission-consent negotiations given the rules the commission has promulgated — and more importantly, not promulgated — to govern them. It is not irrational or villainous for parties to use regulatory rights that the government has provided them.”

TWC did stick a black hat on CBS for “blocking” nationwide during the impasse.

The cable firm’s basic argument is that retransmission-consent talks are not a marketplace negotiation, given that broadcasters have such legal protections as syndicated exclusivity and network non-duplication rules. Blackouts are harmful to consumers, and deals reached without blackouts cost consumers through price increases and other terms, TWC has argued.

Echoing prior requests, TWC asked the FCC to prevent blackouts; require binding arbitration during disputes; prevent broadcasters from jointly negotiating for multiple stations in a market via joint sales, service or marketing agreements; and keep broadcasters from blocking access to online content or create a kind of content providers’ network-neutrality requirement.