Blackout threats by broadcasters are unfair to television viewers

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In advance of a July 24 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on retransmission ("retrans") reform, Consumer Action urges Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act quickly to protect TV subscribers from increasing broadcaster blackouts. (Click here for more about the hearing.)

"Retrans disputes make consumers pawns in jousts between broadcasters and distributors," said Linda Sherry of Consumer Action. "The FCC has to act without delay to change the broadcast television rules to protect consumers from losing the video content they enjoy and pay for while these companies duke it out."

Congress adopted current retrains consent rules during an era when cable companies had monopolies as local franchisees. The purpose of retransmission consent was to ensure that consumers would have access to local broadcasts of local news and information. The rules gave broadcasters leverage in retransmission negotiations but, as more and more deadlocked negotiations lead to widespread blackouts and frustrate consumers, the rules no longer serve the public.

The FCC has dragged its feet on retrans reform. Despite a March Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on proposed changes to the retransmission consent rules that would minimize disruptions to consumers if an agreement between the parties was not reached, no final rules have been adopted. While certain FCC commissioners have expressed doubt about their authority in the matter, attorneys with Public Knowledge and New America Foundation have stated that the FCC has "ample authority" to impose interim carriage or mandatory arbitration in the case of deadlocked negotiations in which consumers are caught in the middle.

"When consumers pay for a service, they have every right to expect that it will be delivered, as expected and uninterrupted," said Sherry.

Consumer Action resources

Other resources

Television in the 21st Century

Three academic papers discuss the evolving state of broadcast television and governing policies.

Public Knowledge

Key Issues: Retransmission Consent

112th Congressional bills

Note: These citations are provided for informational purposes only. Consumer Action has not taken a position on these bills.

H.R. 3675: Next Generation Television Marketplace Act

S. 2008: Next Generation Television Marketplace Act of 2011




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