FCC to Take a Fresh Look at Retransmission Consent Rules Governing Carriage of Broadcast Television Stations

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Among the many items adopted by the Commission at last week's open meeting was a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding retransmission consent agreements and the carriage of broadcast television stations by cable and satellite providers. Retransmission consent has been a hot topic of late both in Washington and in the national press. During the past year, a few carriage negotiations between broadcast television stations and cable or satellite operators have resulted in interruptions - or threats of interruptions - in the carriage of local stations. As a result, both Congress and the public have paid increasing attention to retransmission consent negotiations, and the Commission's NPRM is a effort to review some aspects of its rules governing the relationship between local broadcast stations and the cable and satellite providers that retransmit their signals. A copy of the NPRM is available here.

The NPRM is the outgrowth of a petition for rule making filed in March 2010 by cable and satellite providers, along with several public interest groups. These groups jointly petitioned the FCC seeking significant changes to the current retransmission consent process. Perhaps the most notably aspect of last week's NPRM is not the changes the FCC proposes, but rather the changes it refrains from pursuing. The Commission states in the NPRM that it does not believe that it has the authority to adopt either interim carriage mechanisms - to require the continued carriage of a station without a station owner's consent while negotiations continue - or mandatory binding dispute resolution procedures for retransmission consent negotiations, both of which were proposed by the cable and satellite providers in their petition for rule making. In both cases, the Commission found that it lacked the statutory authority to pursue the rule changes proposed by the petitioners.

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