Retrans Roundtable In Works

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House Energy & Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Rep. Nathan Deal, Republican from Georgia, will host a roundtable meeting this week between stakeholders in the retransmission consent debate, according to a Barton staffer.

Deal motormanned an effort to add retransmission consent reforms to the national video franchising bill. Barton had said the issue was a nonst, was not introduced, but apparently the roundtable was promised. Chairmen frequently promise continued discussions as a quid pro quo for legislators agreeing not to introduce a potentially contentious amendment.

Barton made a point of keeping his version of a telecom reform bill focused on franchise reform, in contrast to the omnibus Senate version.

Deal spearheaded a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin back in December suggesting that the commission should reconsider retrans as it works through the issue of family-friendly tiers and a la carte cable service.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has pushed both as a way to give consumers, particularly parents, more control over cable content as a response to activist group concerns about indecent programming.

The cable industry countered by offering family friendly tiers voluntarily, but says unbundling its channels from service tiers will essentially unravel its business model and disadvantage smaller nets that depend on being bundled to gain carriage.

In the letter, Deal, Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and six other House members wrote of their concerns that retrans deals--in which broadcasters negotiate compensation for carriage of their TV stations on cable--have helped drive the bundling of family-friendly and unfriendly channels. That's because many deals involve not cash but agreements to carry co-owned cable networks, FX for the Fox stations, for example, or MSNBC for NBC stations.

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