Upton: Retrans Regime Should Not Favor Either Party

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Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that neither Congress or the Federal Communications Commission should be getting in the middle of retransmission-consent negotiations.

"As we look at retransmission consent, I think we shouldn't have legislation mandating carriage arrangements...There are very few cases where we haven't seen an agreement between the parties," he said.

Upton said the private sector, until proves otherwise, should be allowed to work the negotiations out itself. That line drew strong applause from broadcasters Upton was speaking to at the National Association of Broadcasters' State Leadership Conference in Washington Tuesday.

He suggested that part of that free market equation that drives the vast majority of deals without signal pulling is big- ticket sporting events like "March Madness" or the World Series; those prompt viewers to put pressure on all parties to do a deal before the contracts expire.

The FCC plans to launch a rulemaking Thursday (March 4) to better define what negotiating retrans in good faith means, and to ask how it can better enforce that requirement, or interpret its authority to prevent signal blackouts that affect consumers.

The commission is expected to assert that it lacks the authority to mandate standstill agreements or outside arbitration, though it could address those issues in some form depending on how it defines good faith bargaining.

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