ACA: Retransmission Negotiations Threaten Digital Transition

ACA Says Members Face Prospect For Lost Carriage.

The American Cable Association is trying to convince legislators that contentious retransmission consent negotiations could wreak havoc with the transition to digital.

 In a letter to the chairman and ranking members of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee in advance of a Tuesday hearing on the DTV transition, the American Cable Association asked them not to "overlook" the issue, which ACA said was broadcasters who might "force operators to drop signals in the months before and after the digital transition, resulting in additional transition related confusion."

 ACA said that with agreements set to expire Dec. 31, 2008, his members, which comprise medium-sized to smaller cable systems, face such prospects for lost carriage. But while ACA argues that would be the result of "discriminatory prices," broadcasters have countered it is because operators are not willing to pay what their valuable programming is worth.

 "This practice will cause mass confusion in the months before and after the transition because consumers will not know whether they have lost channels are a result of the DTV transition," said ACA, "an unfulfilled personal responsibility such as buying the wrong converter box, or another issue entirely."

 ACA has been pushing the FCC to step in to help operators get what is says would be fairer access to programming. They argue that programmers leverage their power to charge smaller operators more than larger ones.

 The Tuesday hearing was prompted by a Government Accountability Office study that found while "substantial progress has been made toward the Feb. 17, 2009, transition to full-power digital TV broadcasting, there are still issues that need resolving.”

"Policymakers shouldn't be fooled by ACA's desperate attempt to link retransmission consent to DTV -- two issues that have nothing in common,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “As noted by the FCC, retransmission consent works exactly as Congress intended. NAB looks forward to juxtaposing the retransmission arguments of free-ride seeking cable operators against their telco and satellite competitors who fairly compensate broadcasters for our highly-watched programming."