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Rep. Eshoo Floats Bill to Stop Retrans Blackouts
by Karl Bode 08:42AM Thursday Sep 12 2013
As Time Warner Cable and CBS just made painfully clear, retransmission fights are getting increasingly ugly for consumers, who continually are losing access to content they're paying for while being used as public relations pinatas. In the most recent scuff up, which involved users losing access to both TV and online content, the FCC did little more than issue sternly worded press releases while acknowledging their own impotence on the issue.

Not too surprisingly, Rep. Ann Eshoo has proposed a bill she insists will make such rate negotiations substantially less painful for consumers. Dubbed The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act, the proposal would provide the FCC the authority to step in when negotiations break down and consumers start to be impacted. As Eshoo's website illustrates, her Act would have five key provisions:

Preventing Broadcast Television Blackouts
Gives the FCC explicit statutory authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse.

Ensuring Consumer Choice in Cable Programming
Ensures that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.

Wholesale Unbundling of Broadcast Stations in Retransmission Consent Negotiations
Prohibits a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming.

Examination into the Blocking of a Broadcast Station's Owned or Affiliated Online Content During Retransmission Consent Negotiations
Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station's owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in "good faith."

FCC Study of Sports Programming Costs
Calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.

"A vibrant video marketplace is one in which there is healthy competition, consumer choice and basic protections to ensure consumers aren't caught in the middle of a dispute they have no control over," Eshoo said. "Recurring TV blackouts, including the 91 U.S. markets impacted in 2012, have made it abundantly clear that the FCC needs explicit statutory authority to intervene when retransmission disputes break down. This discussion draft is intended to spur constructive, actionable debate on ways to improve the video marketplace for video content creators, pay-TV providers and, most importantly, consumers."

As it stands, the industry sees these disputes as gentlemen's disagreements and loathe the idea of government getting involved. The problem is they've been using customers as leverage, blocking content consumers pay for, then socking those same users with bi-annual rate hikes regardless of which side "wins" the negotiation. As such, they shouldn't be particularly shocked when government wants to stick its nose in.

You can read the full bill's specific language here (pdf).

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Camelot One
Premium,MVM
join:2001-11-21
Greenwood, IN
kudos:2

3 recommendations

This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

While the idea of helping consumers sounds nice, and I even like the idea of forcing people like CBS and Disney to negotiate pricing one channel at a time, the bottom line is that the bill would remove the free market from the equation. The Government can't force one company to sell a product to another, nor can you force one company to buy a product from another. And you certainly can't let the Government set the price.

This is isn't a dispute that interrupts water supply, food supply, power, or any other essential service. No one NEEDS cable TV. You could make an argument that having internet service brings some economic or educational advantage to the end user, but neither is true for cable TV. It is a pure luxury.

If more American's would stop wasting their lives in front of the TV, the free market would put an end to this crap really quick. Don't want to give me the channels I want? Fine, I cancel service. End of story. Holding channels hostage currently works for both sides, but only because people think TV is too important to give up.
biochemistry
Premium
join:2003-05-09
92361

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

Except the network and cable companies are already highly regulated by the government like pretty much every other business out there.

Jason Levine
Premium
join:2001-07-13
USA
I would argue that the "free market" when it comes to cable TV is already broken. If I want cable TV where I live, I have one choice: Time Warner Cable. In a free market, there would be competition for my cable TV dollars and the companies involved would need to offer me better service at lower prices to entice me. Instead, they offer me whatever they feel like offering and if I don't like it, too bad!
--
-Jason Levine

FLATLINE

join:2007-02-27
Buffalo, NY

1 recommendation

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

Your right if were talking about a perfect world but its not. In this case you almost have a responsibility to cancel and suffer as do most of us in order to get all this on the right track. Nothing good come without effort or sacrifice. So make a stand and sacrifice. Cancel!

In my area I do have a few options but switching isn't going to solve the problem anyways. Besides I'm not really looking to punish just the cable co. I'm looking to punish the whole industry which sorely deserves it.

Jason Levine
Premium
join:2001-07-13
USA

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

We're on the cusp of cancelling. As it stands, Time Warner Cable gave us a pretty good deal when our last deal expired. They almost didn't and we almost cancelled until they buckled and gave us a deal. From what I've heard, they're doing away with these deals, though. If that's the case then, when our deal expires we'll be cutting cable. (As it is, we get most of our TV content from Netflix or Amazon VOD via a Roku box.)
--
-Jason Levine
TBBroadband

join:2012-10-26
Fremont, OH

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

You are free to obtain any provider that is wishing and willing to spend the money to build out to your home. Don't expect a company to build across the country just to reach one home. Overbuilding makes little sense and not many companies are willing to overbuild CaTV and Internet. RCN basically stopped overbuilding when they went bankrupt and it leaves WOW who is only expanding where it makes sense with their current foot print.

You also have DirecTV and Dish available to you.
Skippy25

join:2000-09-13
Hazelwood, MO
I'm not sure where you get your ideas from, but the government can force a company to do pretty much whatever they want through regulations (which this will be). You dont think they can force (companies) to sell / buy from another, let me give you example one of their ability to force a market in Obamacare.
TBBroadband

join:2012-10-26
Fremont, OH

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

CableTV is different than Healthcare. And Affordable Healthcare Act does not require you to use one insurance company. It just tells the employers they must provide coverage or the gov't will. - which is the way it should be.
Skippy25

join:2000-09-13
Hazelwood, MO

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

Regardless, the point was and still is that the government can craft laws and regulations to do anything that needs to be done. They can force line sharing, they can force investment, they can force them out of a territory all together.
rahvin112

join:2002-05-24
Sandy, UT
Remove the free market? Don't be silly, it's never been a free market. You have government granted monopoly content selling their content to local monopoly television providers. There is no free market in sight. Whats needed is some nice strong regulations to prevent abuse by these monopolies. Congress made a huge mistake allowing broadcast stations to demand money for carriage. You and every single American is paying about $10 more for your TV because of that and it bought you nothing. What it did buy is the CEO's of the major content providers and cable companies got a big bonus for bribing congress into extorting money from the american people through market price fixing.
TBBroadband

join:2012-10-26
Fremont, OH

Re: This seems like something SCOTUS would strike down quickly

How is it not a free market??? Because you only have one option for wired TV? You still have 2 other choices. Please explain...

88615298
Premium
join:2004-07-28
West Tenness
said by Camelot One:

While the idea of helping consumers sounds nice, and I even like the idea of forcing people like CBS and Disney to negotiate pricing one channel at a time, the bottom line is that the bill would remove the free market from the equation.

If you think there is an actual "free market" then you are sorely mistaken.
josephf

join:2009-04-26
Reviews:
·VoicePulse

Very Vague on Costs

This bill, or this article describing it, is very vague. What are the costs that the cable company has to pay the broadcaster for re-transmission rights? Will the FCC now get in the business of setting rates, replacing negotiations, between broadcasters and cable companies (for the duration of disputes)? If not, and they are forced to carry broadcast stations, what will they pay?

carpetshark3
Premium
join:2004-02-12
Idledale, CO
Reviews:
·CenturyLink

1 recommendation

Re: Very Vague on Costs

If you can get it with an antenna, it shouldn't be blacked out. Or if you can get it with an antenna, you shouldn't have to pay for the cable service of the same. Buy the other programs you want.
If you live in a mostly urban area, you are usually OK. But if you live where you can't get the local signal even with an antenna, you shouldn't be held hostage. A lot depend on local news for flash flood, smoke, and other warnings. A lot of cities have discontinued the warning sirens.
josephf

join:2009-04-26

Re: Very Vague on Costs

Whether I agree or disagree with your sentiments, it hasn't anything to do with my comment.
biochemistry
Premium
join:2003-05-09
92361

add to this bill

Allow cable companies to transmit out of region network broadcasts. CBS New York not playing fair? TWC NY can pick up CBS Boston.

Camelot One
Premium,MVM
join:2001-11-21
Greenwood, IN
kudos:2

Re: add to this bill

Except that will just move the negotiation and blackout from the cable co to the local affiliates.
biochemistry
Premium
join:2003-05-09
92361

Re: add to this bill

And with 100+ affiliates, someone will buckle for a lower price. It's amazing what a little competition will do.

88615298
Premium
join:2004-07-28
West Tenness

Re: add to this bill

said by biochemistry:

And with 100+ affiliates, someone will buckle for a lower price. It's amazing what a little competition will do.

yes and everything with will be sunshine and rainbows. Seriously you believe that?
biochemistry
Premium
join:2003-05-09
92361

Re: add to this bill

It's better than going through life with a negative attitude like 95% of your posts.

FFH5
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Bill sticks it to networks more than cable companies

Color me surprised. A bill that sticks it to the TV networks and not the cable companies. And from Hollywood's rep in Congress. Like others said here, I doubt it would pass muster at the USSC. And I also doubt it would get thru Congress and be passed in to law. But it is an interesting bill since it is one that realizes that the content companies are at the heart of this problem.
elray

join:2000-12-16
Santa Monica, CA
Reviews:
·Time Warner Cable
·EarthLink

1 recommendation

Re: Bill sticks it to networks more than cable companies

And what's wrong with that?

The cable industry is a competitive last-mile provider, while content is exclusively held.

(On principle, I'm not in favor of federal meddling, especially considering this whole mess was created by federal re-regulation, but if they're going to "fix" it, it isn't your satellite company, telcoTV or cable provider that needs correction.)

whiteshp

join:2002-03-05
Xenia, OH

Blocking non-cable customers

Part of the problem was also that they not only blocked cable customers. But they also chose to block people who were not cable customers just for bigger impact.
axus

join:2001-06-18
Washington, DC
Reviews:
·Comcast

1 recommendation

Trim it down to the unbundling requirement

That seems to be the heart of the matter. I'm OK with the government saying "Thou shalt not". "Wholesale unbundling" sounds like a good law, if the majority of Congress agrees then it should be law. Forcing someone to continue broadcasting seems to be overreaching though.
Skippy25

join:2000-09-13
Hazelwood, MO

Level the playing field

If you do not allow them to take away the content, then MSO's have no reason to negotiate in good faith thus the content owners are hurt.

If you allow them to take away the content, then the MSO's are hurt because the subscribers are hurt and, as has been demonstrated time and time again, they will go else where.

Really the only thing the can do with this is fine both sides an equal amount per day while also not allowing the content from being blocked in any form. This will cause them both to want to resolve the issue ASAP as their bottom lines are affected and it wont be because one of them is getting hurt more than the other.
TBBroadband

join:2012-10-26
Fremont, OH

Won't go far.

This won't go very far at all. ABC-Disney and alike will make sure this never happens. Especially when you have ViaCom behind on the otherside pushing money to kill this.

The FCC can't even manage their current business let alone giving them something else to manage.