At Tuesday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the Cable
Act, former Republican committee member Gordon Smith and current chairman Jay
Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) agreed that consumers should get a refund when they lose
access to channels during retrans impasses.
In his testimony for the hearing, Smith, now president of
the National Association of Broadcasters, offered a three-step solution to
easing the impact of impasses on consumers. "First, we urge the FCC to
insist that pay TV providers give viewers ample notice of a possible disruption
in service; second, the FCC should allow customers to easily switch among
competing pay TV providers, without incurring financial penalties, and also
receive refunds when stations are unavailable; third, we could do a better job
as broadcasters by educating consumers about the availability of free
Rockefeller thanked him for his interest in refunds, which
came as no surprise since he had been first to raise the issue at the hearing.
"When consumers lose channels in these corporate disputes, they should get
Another top Democrat, Communications Subcommittee Chairman
John Kerry (D-Mass.), was in agreement with Smith on the importance of local
broadcasting. Kerry said that one of the Cable Act's goals was to preserve
local broadcasting, something he said he wants to do.
That was in sharp contrast to witness Mark Cooper of the
Consumer Federation of America, who called exclusive broadcast licenses an
original sin, and said broadcasters needed to be moved out of the way in favor
of unlicensed uses of their spectrum.