Dish Network joined smaller cable operators in asking the Federal Communications Commission to mandate a retransmission-consent "quiet period" surrounding the digital-TV-transition date of Feb. 17, 2009.
The American Cable Association asked the FCC to institute the quiet period in a formal request last month.
FCC rules already prevent broadcast signals from being moved or dropped during sweeps periods, the ACA pointed out. "If the commission can justify a recurring retransmission status quo during sweeps periods," it added, "the commission can surely apply a short, one-time-only quiet period to ensure a smooth digital transition."
Dish agreed. In a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, Linda Kinney vice president of law and regulation for the company, wrote: "Small and midsized cable providers have requested that the commission adopt a retransmission-consent ‘quiet period’ that would maintain the status quo during the fragile period surrounding the digital transition. We agree. Adopting a quiet period for all pay TV providers would ensure that commercial disputes do not disrupt service to consumers and add to the confusion surrounding one of the most difficult technical and operational transitions in U.S. television history."
Dish also said that once that period is over, the FCC should proceed to reforming the "broken" retransmission-consent process.
Dish wants the FCC to: 1) unbundle programming, something Martin would like to do to, although he likely does not have three votes for it; 2) consider a standstill provision that would prevent stations from withdrawing their signals while the FCC was considering complaints that broadcasters had not bargained in good faith; 3) consider allowing smaller pay TV providers to "opt in" to the rate charged to larger operators, which generally have to pay less for the programming, Dish said; and 4) require broadcasters to provide “clear evidence and documentation that retransmission-consent fees are used to increase the amount of locally based content available to communities.”