Free Press, Consumers Union, PTC Ask FCC to Help Resolve Retrans Disputes

Groups say consumers shouldn't be held "prisoners" to pricey bundles
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Put Free Press, Consumers Union and the Parents Television Council in the "retransmission consent is broken" category, one which also includes cable operators pushing for reform. The groups got together to file comments in the FCC's inquiry into retransmission consent.  The deadline for initial comments was Tuesday (May 18).

In their filing, the groups ask the commission to step in to help resolve disputes when retrans negotiations reach an impasse, with industry footing the bill for that outside arbitration. And in a novel route to unbundling and a la carte, they want, as part of dispute resolution, a mechanism for consumers to be able to decline to pay for any channels that have been sold as a bundle.

"Consumers should no longer be prisoners of pricey bundles, but should have the freedom to select, pay for and receive in their living rooms only those channels they want," they argued.

The FCC inquiry was prompted in part by some high-profile impasses that drew attention from Capitol Hill. FCC Chairman Juilus Genachowksi has said there "may" need to be fixes to the system, but at the same time he has said he does not want to get in the middle of marketplace discussions.

His baseline has been that the issue is about consumers and their potential loss of access to signals during those marketplace negotiations, however.

Broadcasters, who say retrans impasses are not regular occurences, argue that the system is working fine and finally compensating broadcasters fairly, or at least more fairly, for the high-value content they supply to multichannel video programming distributors.

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