Choice Words for Local Choice

A la Carte, retrans reform fans praise Senate Commerce proposal

Some veteran fans of a la carte and retrans reform are getting behind "Local Choice," a Senate Commerce Committee proposal to allow MVPD subs to decide which TV stations they want to include in their tier of cable service.

That proposal would upend the retrans negotiation process, turning cable operators into fee collectors for broadcasters, but eliminating the requirement that all cable operators deliver retrans stations to all customers, and on the so-called "must buy" tier.

It was floated by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.) and ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) as both a way to end retrans blackouts and give subs more control over their cable bills, which cable operators say are being inflated by rising broadcaster retrans fees.

Dish, which is part of a coalition pushing for retrans reforms to try to keep those fees in check, praised the plan.

"'We applaud the bipartisan efforts of Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Thune to update the decades-old retransmission consent regime in a manner that uses free-market concepts to put an end to harmful broadcast television blackouts," it said in a statement. "DISH looks forward to working with Congress as ‘Local Choice’ legislation is considered as part of STELA.”

STELA, a reference to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, must-pass legislation that could be a vehicle for the Local Choice proposal. Rockefeller and company are slated to work on their version of the bill when the Senate returns in September.

The Parents Television Council has long pushed for a la carte choice to give parents more control over TV programming, although the Local Choice provision does not extend to cable channels, which are allowed to have more sex and violence than broadcasters subject to indecency regs.

PTC President Tim Winter conceded there would be more work to do on the a la carte front, but saw this as a beginning, ending blackouts and giving consumers more choice.

"This proposal is a wonderful and important first step for consumer choice," he said. "Consumers, not the media conglomerates, should decide for themselves which networks they want to purchase and bring into their homes. While the present measure would give consumers choice over the broadcast networks, we hope this will ultimately pave the way for consumers to enjoy greater choice for all of their cable programming. We applaud Sens. Rockefeller and Thune for putting consumers first.”