DeMint, Scalise Propose Sweeping Away Retrans Regime, Ownership Regs
Aimed at clearing out "decades-old" regs they argue represent the government inappropriately picking winners and losers
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/16/2011 2:14:45 PM
That deregulatory chain saw is aimed at clearing out "decades-old" regs they argue represent the government inappropriately picking winners and losers.
"The laws and rules governing video services were largely written decades ago, and do not reflect the tremendous technological advancements, dramatic growth of competition, and rapidly changing consumer behavior of the 21st Century," said DeMint in a statement. "If we want to encourage innovation, job creation, and consumer benefits, we need to stop issuing new regulations and instead remove and modernize rules written to address the last century's business and regulatory models."
Specifically the bill would:
- Repeal those provisions of the Communications Act that mandate the carriage and purchase of certain broadcast signals by cable operators, satellite providers, and their customers.
- Repeal the Communications Act's "retransmission consent" provisions and the Copyright Act's "compulsory license" provisions, thereby allowing negotiations for the carriage of broadcast stations to take place in the same deregulated environment as negotiations for carriage of non-broadcast channels such as Discovery, Food Network, and AMC.
- Repeal ownership limitations imposed on local media operators, allowing businesses to evolve and adapt to today's dynamic communications market.
The American Television Alliance, which has been pushing for major retrans reform, called it a constructive step foward.
"[ATVA] commends Rep. Steve Scalise and Senator Jim DeMint for introducing companion bills to reform the rules and regulations that govern the television marketplace. The past few decades have brought tremendous changes to how consumers view broadcast programming, how it is marketed and how it is delivered, yet the rules governing the industry have stayed the same for nearly twenty years. This legislation represents a constructive step forward and ATVA looks forward to working with the sponsors of the legislation and other Members of Congress to make the necessary changes to modernize these rules and protect consumers."
ATVA members include AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, DISH, and DirecTV.
Free Press was not nearly as pleased. "This bill is the worst idea Jim DeMint has had in a long time -- and that's saying a lot," said Free Press President Craig Aaron. "This legislation is a lump of coal that would end competition, diversity and localism, and would enable media companies to monopolize and distort local news and information."
Like ATVA, the American Cable Association saw the bill as a step toward addressing key issues. "ACA greatly appreciates that with this legislation, Congress will open a dialogue -- an action long overdue -- on reforming communications laws and regulations that have sat around far too long and failed to keep pace with changes in the market," said ACA President Matt Polka. "Just as a house will develop leaks if the roof is not maintained, laws and regulations need to be updated periodically to ensure they don't inflict harm on consumers."
Braodcasters are no fans of local ownership rules, but if the price of removing them is to strip away the must-carry, rerans regime, no thanks.
"NAB respectfully opposes the legislation," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Current law ensures access to quality local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather warnings. The proposed changes to the Communications Act strike at the core of free market negotiations and broadcast localism, thereby threatening a community-based information and entertainment medium that serves tens of millions of Americans each day."
It's really too bad that neither side can accept a middle-of-the-road compromise. Yes, repeal of the current regulations will allow some large cable companies to become even larger. However, retransmission consent allows broadcasters to extort rate increases in upwards of 70% in some cases in a market with a consumer index increase of 3%. In this current climate, small cable companies are losing, and rural television subscribers are being forced into satellite service. How exactly does that represent fair competition?
Misti Runyan - 12/21/2011 10:17:28 AM EST
Yeah, I would like to say that DeMint and Scalise are really out of touch with reality. I also don't like to see my options being limited as a viewer, listener, etc. We need more competition in broadcasting. I also don't like how DeMint and Scalise are using the recession as a smokescreen for their hidden agendas.
Mr. Dana Ward Carlson - 12/17/2011 8:38:05 PM EST
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