Comments poured into the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday on the state of direct-broadcast satellite relative to other multichannel providers as the wired industry looked to strengthen its hand in retransmission-consent negotiations with stations and its competitive position relative to what it characterized as a strong and growing DBS competitor.
Broadcasters, by contrast, counseled the FCC not to tinker with a system that is working.
The Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Re-authorization Act, passed by Congress last year, required an FCC report to Congress on retransmission consent, distant signal importation, blackouts of sports and syndicated programming from imported distant network signals, and rural cable competition with DBS.
The act renewed the ground rules for DBS programming carriage, including some differences with cable that were initially meant to foster DBS as competition to the wired medium.
Cable interests argued Tuesday that it now needed a re-leveling of the playing field with both national and local broadcasters through changes to program exclusivity and retransmission consent rules.
Cable operators Cox, Advance Newhouse and Insight argued that cable prices have been driven up by broadcast networks using their retransmission consent rights to get higher prices and wider distribution for their co-owned cable networks than would otherwise be the case. That, said the cable companies, has been the prime suspect in rising cable bills.
They asked the FCC to make sure to make that point in its report to Congress, which is due by September.
The cable industry wants the ability to import a distant network station if a local station opts for retransmission consent. That ability would give cable more negotiating power, since it could import an out-of-town network signal if it didn't want to meet the local stations carriage terms.
NCTA also wants Congress to standardize the definition of "network station" for the purposes of copyright royalty payments. Currently, DBS has to pay less for Fox than cable because of that difference.
In its filing, the National Association of Broadcasters counseled the FCC not to "disturb" the current system or retransmission consent and program exclusivity, which it says have helped preserve localism. NAB said cable's complaints about retransmission consent were "little more than grumbling about situations where their own gatekeeper positions are less effective than they may have been previously."
The American Cable Association, representing rural cable operators asked for nondiscriminatory access to DBS' local-station transmissions in remote areas where those cable operators don't have access to a strong signal from the station.
The cable industry pointed out that DBS was made possible thanks to the access it was given to cable programming networks. ACA, looking for some reciprocity, argues it is only fair that smaller operators whose distance from the station makes it impossible to get a good signal be given nondiscriminatory access to the DBS local-into-local feed of those stations.