Cable Operators Applaud FCC Retrans Move

Even though it did not grant them the arbitration and standstill-agreement
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Cable companies generally had nice things to say about the
FCC's retrans reform proposal, even if it did not grant them the arbitration
and standstill-agreement help many had been seeking.

"The FCC's Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking is an important
first step for consumers, because it recognizes that consumers are the ones who
are harmed when programming is pulled - or threatened to be pulled - from cable
systems," said Tom Rutledge, Cablevision's Chief Operating Officer, in a
statement. "The FCC has signaled its plans to examine certain broadcaster
practices in retransmission consent negotiations - including the impacts
of Most Favored Nation agreements and exactly what it means for a broadcaster
to negotiate in ‘good faith.'"

But Cablevision has its own wish list that it can be
expected to push in comments on the FCC's just-launched notice of proposed rulemaking.

Cablevision wants the FCC to prevent the bundling of
broadcast station and cable channel negotiations, make retrans fees
public--FCC Commissioner Michael Copps agrees--and prevent price
"discrimination" between cable and satellite providers based on their
size.

If the FCC did that, said Rutledge, there would largely be
no need for the binding arbitration that Cablevision and others had pushed the FCC to mandate for impasses.

The commission did at least raise the issuing of unbundling,
saying in the notice that "several commenters have suggested that the Commission
should address the ability of broadcasters to condition retransmission consent
on the purchase of other programming services, such as the programming of
affiliated non-broadcast networks," thought it did not propose untying
those bundles.

Time Warner Cable government relations exec Gail MacKinnon
said it was a good day for cable operators and their customers. While she conceded
that they did not get all they wanted, she pointed out that the FCC left open
at least the possibility that commenters could change their mind--it
was framed as a tentative conclusion, though FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski seemed pretty sure Thursday that the FCC did not
have the authority to mandate carriage or impose arbitration.

The American Cable Association said that it would have
preferred an Extreme Makeover, FCC style, but like other cable operators,
was buoyed by the FCC action.

"ACA commends the FCC for agreeing that the time has
come to give careful consideration to new TV station carriage rules to ensure they
reflect the market as it exists today and that consumers get to realize the
benefits of real choice and robust competition," said ACA
President Matt Polka.

"Score one for the viewers," was the response
of the American Television Alliance, whose petition for retrans reform the
FCC was responding to. "The FCC's approval of a new rulemaking on
retransmission consent is a big win for all who have demanded reform," the group
said, "including viewers who have been forced to endure more and more
broadcaster blackouts and blackout threats.  The Commission is
clearly acknowledging that the current system is broken and that
early 1990s rules must be updated.  The NPRM is a good
start toward the goals of balancing the scales and protecting
viewers." ATVA members include ACA and Cablevision.

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