Washington

FCC Wades Further Into Choppy Retrans Waters

Commission considers current issues facing consent regime 6/06/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Taking a Spectrum Checkup

It looks like the AT&T/T-Mobile deal may be a way for broadcasters to get a better answer on whether wireless companies actually need all that spectrum they’ve been clamoring for. The National Association of Broadcasters has been calling on the government to investigate the capacity “crunch” before taking more than a third of broadcasters’ remaining spectrum to auction to those companies.

The FCC has issued an information request from both AT&T and T-Mobile as part of the usual fact-finding mission of regulators vetting mergers. Leading the list of questions are a number related to what constitutes a capacity crunch.

The commission wants “all plans, analyses and reports” dealing with the definition and determination of a spectrum constraint and how they arrived at the conclusion. At a Hill hearing, an NAB witness advised that the first step toward a road map for FCC spectrum policy would include an effort to “assess the wireless industry’s capability to deploy resources more effectively,” which the FCC appears to be trying to do, at least when it comes to AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier.

The FCC also wants to know what fixes there are to the problem, beyond simply gaining more spectrum. —JE

The FCC has gotten an earful—and then
some—on its retransmission consent regime.
Broadcasters say retrans fees are crucial to
their future business plans, and only fair compensation
for must-have programming.

The system is not broken and does not need government
to intervene in the marketplace, says broadcaster
after broadcaster.

Cable operators are just as adamant that must-carry
rules are the government thumb on the scale, as are the
syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules.
Those protect local market signals by
prohibiting cable operators from negotiating
for out-of-market TV station
signals if they can’t reach a deal with
similarly situated in-market stations.

The FCC has historically kept out of
retrans spats/fights, even when they result
in station blackouts. But some highprofile retrans battles set Congress on
the FCC’s tail and prompted the commission
to propose some tweaks and a
couple of serious changes to the system.

Now it is up to the FCC to digest
those comments and decide whether it is going to take
some jabs at the regime or give it a swift kick in the exclusivity
rules.

Here is some of what the FCC has to chew on.

Don’t Tread on Us: Disney said it was only reiterating
points it had made before to illustrate that the retransmission
consent regime is working “exactly” as Congress
intended. That is noteworthy in part because it was Disney-
owned WABC’s retrans spat with Cablevision last year
that helped prompt Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to call
on the FCC to look into reforming retrans.

Disney tells the FCC that it was right to conclude it
did not have the authority to mandate interim carriage
or binding dispute resolution, but wrong to suggest that
“isolated but highly publicized” tensions justify government
intervention. Disney says the FCC cannot scrap the
syndicated exclusivity or network nonduplication rules
so long as cable operators continue to have a compulsory
license to retransmit broadcast signals.

It’s Time (Warner) for a Change: If you ask Time
Warner (and the FCC did), the retransmission consent regime
is an artifi cial construct that favors
broadcasters, and a “rising tide of anticompetitive
conduct,” and is in need
of a complete overhaul. That means not
just getting rid of syndex and nonduplication
rules, but must-carry rules
as well, including the buy-through requirement
that means TV stations must
be placed in the most basic tier.

Time Warner also wants the FCC
to prevent the bundling of TV station
and cable channel carriage agreements,
and the negotiation of multiple TV station
retrans deals in a single market via joint operating
agreements. Those are among the changes pushed by the
American Cable Association in its filing.


Our Only Comment Is, ‘No Comment’:
The
National Cable & Telecommunications Association did
not file comments in the retrans docket, according to a
spokesperson. Given that some of its members have interests
on both sides of the issue, NCTA prefers to let
whichever individual members that want to (see Time
Warner and Disney, above) weigh in on their own.

E-mail
comments to
jeggerton@nbmedia.com
and follow him on
Twitter: @eggerton

Taking a Spectrum Checkup

It looks like the AT&T/T-Mobile deal may be a way for broadcasters to get a better answer on whether wireless companies actually need all that spectrum they’ve been clamoring for. The National Association of Broadcasters has been calling on the government to investigate the capacity “crunch” before taking more than a third of broadcasters’ remaining spectrum to auction to those companies.

The FCC has issued an information request from both AT&T and T-Mobile as part of the usual fact-finding mission of regulators vetting mergers. Leading the list of questions are a number related to what constitutes a capacity crunch.

The commission wants “all plans, analyses and reports” dealing with the definition and determination of a spectrum constraint and how they arrived at the conclusion. At a Hill hearing, an NAB witness advised that the first step toward a road map for FCC spectrum policy would include an effort to “assess the wireless industry’s capability to deploy resources more effectively,” which the FCC appears to be trying to do, at least when it comes to AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier.

The FCC also wants to know what fixes there are to the problem, beyond simply gaining more spectrum. —JE

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