NAB vs. ACA: Retrans Ruckus Rages On

The cable and broadcast industries continue to square off over the issue of retransmission consent.

The cable and broadcast industries continue to square off over the issue of retransmission consent.

This time it was the American Cable Association (ACA), which represents small and mid-sized cable operators. and the National Association of broadcasters. The issue was possible spikes in requests for DTV converter-box coupons.

ACA sent out a release Thursday saying that there had been an "uptick" in DTV coupon requests--it did not say how much--in three of the 11 markets where LIN TV and Time Warner are locked in a battle for retrans fees.

Citing figures by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is overseeing the converter-box coupon subsidy program, ACA called "troubling" the possibility that LIN's decison to pull TV stations in 11 markets after a deal could not be done. "These disruptions of service around the time of the DTV transition might be needlessly costing taxpayers money and could be eliminating a limited supply of converter boxes from store shelves that are intended for consumers who really need them,” said ACA, which has pushed the FCC to step in and establish a moratorium on signal pulling between now and a few weeks after the Feb. 17 DTV transition date.

“We urge the Chairman to immediately issue the retransmission consent quiet period rulemaking that will guard against these threats to a successful transition,” said ACA President Matthew Pola in a release.

What about the other 8 LIN markets. Were there upticks there, too? An NTIA spokesman said it had only run the numbers on those three markets, could not quantify what the uptick was in those, and that there might be more such increases in other markets. In fact,  NTIA is expecting an increase in DTV coupons requests in all markets as the DTV transition date nears, and has even encouraged that with a new "apply, buy, and try" campaign to encourage viewers not to wait until the last minute to apply for the coupons, buy the boxes and try them out.

The National Association of Broadcasters dismissed the ACA's professed concern.

“ACA's rhetoric is completely nonsensical," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Only in cable fantasy land does a campaign that successfully equips consumers with DTV converter boxes translate into confusion and failure.  If ACA truly cares about consumers, it might want to explore claims by Consumer Reports magazine that its members are deceptively using the DTV transition as an opportunity to upsell customers into higher-priced digital tiers."

NAB and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association clashed over that issue Wednesday, with the NCTA raising the retrans issue.