Retransmission Consent Abuse

I have to warn you.  This is a political call to action.

First time I heard of Retransmission fees, was in 2006 when I was minding my own business as a network admin here at CCC.   I kept seeing crawls on the TV screen and hearing customer service reps be barraged by calls from concerned customers who wanted to keep their local stations.  Since then, I’ve watched as cable companies all over get hammered by increased fees and stringent terms as these corporations that own large cable companies force their new cash-cow down consumer’s throats.  As of 2012, retransmission fees increased over $2.6BILLION and is going higher.  TV stations are ordering cable providers all over the country to remove their signal because they refuse to sign their so-called “Deals” that increase fees by over 100%.

Yes, I’m against the Retransmission Consent laws as they are used today.  Enacted in 1992, Retransmission Consent was a rule that allowed local broadcasters to require permission for cable tv companies to carry their signal, and require a fee to do so. Prior to this, everything was “must carry” which meant if you were in coverage area of that station’s market, your cable tv operator was required to carry the station.

I’m not hostile towards free enterprise. I’m against double standards.  Broadcast TV has always been free to anyone who wanted it in the station’s coverage area.  Local stations are free if you can get their signal.  However, what if you don’t have a big antenna that can reliably pick up your local station? If you have cable for other channels, would you want to switch boxes or inputs just to see your local channels?  I used to live 30 miles from the Louisville TV station’s towers and struggled with their signal. Now I live 100 miles from Little Rock, which is also our DMA (Designated Market Area) and there’s no chance of getting local stations from there.  Since the only way I’ll get those stations are via cable or satellite, I have to pay a company to bring me the signal.  Because of Retransmission Consent fees, however, the cable tv operator or satellite operator has to pay the broadcasters a fee so they can legally provide their FREE channel to me.  Like many, I’m all for paying a cable company or satellite provider a fee to build and maintain a way to get me the signal since I’m getting other channels I’m paying to get too.  However I’m not ok paying for a broadcast station that is supposed to be free.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  Say I CAN pick up the stations from Little Rock with an antenna.  I don’t wan’t JUST the broadcast stations, though.  I want Disney, AMC, A&E, Discovery, and so on.  However, I don’t want to pay extra to get broadcast stations.  Because of Broadcast TV’s rules and contracts, my cable provider STILL has to charge me for those local stations because they are required to include them in the basic package.  If I were able to get cable without locals, I would’t even watch locals much, because of the inconvenience of changing inputs on my TV set between cable and antenna.  Then, the rating go away, as I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

To me, Retransmission Consent Fees are strictly a way of making money because of a law that was written due to legislators failure to see in the future.

A Retransmission Consent fee would only be fair to the consumer if the following took place:

  • Over the air broadcast became pay tv in itself (scramble it and require decoders to force viewers to pay)
  • Cable providers were allowed to provide locals in a tier, giving consumers a choice to have these channels or not
  • Cable providers had local ad insertion rights on those channels to help recuperate from the fees (much like is done with the cable channels broadcast channels feel they are equal to).
  • Broadcast stations were priced based on a local rating system, rather than a network rating system. Not all locals are equal with their news and weather.
  • Broadcast stations were required to break into programming for severe weather in their ENTIRE coverage area – not just their home city and surrounding counties.  Also they would be required to cover news relevant to the entire coverage area.  If this requirement wasn’t kept, there would be a discount on the amount of time the local content was played to level the playing field.
  • Fair negotiations were genuinely fair.  A small cable provider would get rates within 10% of what the other providers in their area pay.
  • Copyright Licensing fees were paid by the station, not the cable/satellite provider.  (Yes, another fee Cable has to pay to provide your “free” over the air channels.)

If Broadcast wants what I’ve heard them call “Their fair share,” they need to play by the rules other pay channels play by in the free market system.  Retransmission consent fees are programming fees, plain and simple.  Either it’s free or it’s not.  It can’t be both ways.

Here’s your call to action.  There is an Act that has been presented by Rep Anna Eshoo on in Capitol Hill. It’s called the Video Choice act. You can find a PDF of it here: http://eshoo.house.gov/uploads/CBO_227_xml.pdf  In general, it’s a good start, and if the above changes could be worked in, it would be much better.  Please, write or call your US Senator or Representative in favor of the Video Choice Act.  If you live in Arkansas, Senator Pryor is key in pushing this through. I know this isn’t as important as the healthcare mess, or the national debt being messed up, but I believe this is something Congress can do that they can actually work together on to fix.

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