Public Knowledge Wants to Put Bite in FCC Retrans Enforcement

Says FCC has power to remake negotiations
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Digital rights public interest group Public Knowledge said Friday that the FCC has more power to remake retrans negotiations than it is willing to admit and urged it to use it.

That came in retransmission consent comments filed Friday (May 27) in advance of the FCC's end-of-day deadline for weighing in on proposed changes to its retransmission consent enforcement regime.

Those changes included better clarifying what qualifies as good faith negotiations and perhaps even scrapping rules that currently prevent cable operators from negotiating carriage with similarly situated stations or programming from outside of the market at issue.

But the FCC indicated it did not have the authority to mandate standstill agreements or outside arbitration.

Public Knowledge countered that the commission has "ample authority" to use those measures to break retrans "deadlocks."

It also wants the FCC to prevent broadcasters from tying TV stations carriage to cable channel carriage deals.

Public Knowledge joined with cable and satellite operators and others to form the American Television Alliance and petition the FCC for rule changes.

But beyond putting more teeth in the rules, PK says the FCC has to actually bite rather than just bark.

"[F]or these rules to be effective," PK said in a joint filing with the New America Foundation, "the Commission has to enforce them," adding: "[T]he Commission has thus far shirked away from any meaningful enforcement of its existing rules.  In the one instance in which the FCC found rule violations, the Commission merely required the parties to resume negotiations within 10 days and report on the status of the negotiation every 30 days. Such timid enforcement sends a message to powerful parties to these negotiations that they can ignore the good faith requirements with impunity."

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