Washington Weighs In On WABC-Cablevision Retrans Disconnect


In the wake of Disney's decision to follow through on pulling WABC-TV from Cablevision systems, the e-mails were flying in Washington, with calls for government to step in if necessary to bring the parties together.

John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairnman of the Sen. Communications Subcommittee, renewed his call for Washington to step in, as well as telling the two sides to work something out, rather than make "collateral damage" of viewers. But he did not put the blame on ABC, as he seemed to do in a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week urging a resolution of the impasse.

In that letter he had said he didn't think ABC should be able to pull the signal without some FCC finding that Cablevision had bargained in bad faith.

But in Sunday's statement, he pointed no fingers. He said that ABC had pulled the signal because it could not agree with Cablevision on the value, and added that it is "neither my place nor my goal to pick sides in this dispute."

Kerry said his concern was for the "three million households, including many who will not know where to get a digital receiver today or how to install it, [who] will find that a service they pay for monthly is not delivering what was promised."

FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake did not mention the FCC stepping in. In his own statement Sunday afternoon, he said the FCC was in contact with both sides, which it has already been for several days.

"[The FCC] is monitoring the situation closely," he said. "Consumers should not suffer due to the inability of these two companies to successfully negotiate a deal. We urge both parties to quickly reach a resolution for the benefit of viewers."

Kerry has said the Congress needs to take a new look at the retransmission-consent regime, likely beginning with a hearing in his subcommittee.

Echoing that sentiment Friday was the American Cable Association, which has had its own bone to pick with Disney over the bundling of ESPN 360 in carriage deals. ACA also echoed Kerry's called on the FCC to step in.

"Disney's decision early Sunday to pull its ABC signal from 3 million Cablevision System Corp. cable customers in the New York City area underscores the American Cable Association's long-standing policy position that the federal retransmission consent regime is a badly broken system that permits signal pulling and flagrant price discrimination against smaller cable companies that consumers should not be forced to tolerate." said ACA in a statement.

ACA urges the Federal Communications Commission to heed the calls of members of Congress and take every action now to restore the ABC signal while the parties continue to engage in good faith negotiations..."

According to Cablevision, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), was pusing for arbitration as well.

"If ABC Disney and Cablevision cannot reach an agreement allowing New Yorkers immediate access to WABC-TV, both parties should agree to a binding arbitration process to resolve this matter," she said, according to a statement circulated by Cablevision. 

Lowey's colleague from the Empire State, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) also called for arbitration if an accord can't be consummated.

"As ABC Disney and Cablevision continue their ongoing negotiations, customers' services should remain intact. I urge ABC Disney to keep its signal on tonight so all New Yorkers can watch WABC-TV. And, if an amicable agreement cannot be made between the two parties, they should agree to a binding arbitration process to resolve this matter," Crowley said in a statement. "Ultimately, what is most important is that the consumers be held harmless during this process by having the signal restored immediately."

At the state level, New York Senator Craig Johnson, (D-Nassau) also called for that mechanism to end the standoff.

"I am disappointed that ABC Disney pulled the signal, denying millions of New York area households the ability to see WABC-TV. It is time for both parties to put consumers first," he noted. "Therefore I am calling on ABC Disney and Cablevision to agree to a binding arbitration process to resolve this matter. Also, it is imperative that consumers be held harmless during this process by having the signal restored immediately."