In opening a proceeding to review what it means for broadcasters and MVPDs to negotiate retrans deals in good faith, the FCC says its goal is to “benefit consumers of video programming service by facilitating successful negotiations and avoiding disruptions in service.”
To the consternation of the NAB, the FCC today began a review of the obligation broadcasters and cable and satellite operators have to act in “good faith” in their often contentious retransmission consent negotiations.
Congress mandated the review last year.
“[O]ur goal in this proceeding is to provide further guidance to negotiating parties about the totality of the circumstances test, if necessary, to benefit consumers of video programming services by facilitating successful negotiations and avoiding disruptions in service,” the FCC said.
Broadcasters worry that any change in the good faith regulations might tip the negotiation balance in favor of the cable and satellite operators and hobble their ability to negotiate for retrans fees.
In fact, many of the questions raised in the FCC notice are based on complaints made by cable and satellite operators.
“The notice, at first blush, appears to go much further than Congress directed,” said NAB EVP Dennis Wharton. “We were struck by the FCC’s admission that nothing in this proceeding will necessarily translate to lower cable prices for consumers.
“We also question whether the FCC should be taking actions that benefit heavily consolidated companies that dominate the video landscape like Dish, AT&T/DirecTV, Time Warner Cable/Charter and Verizon.”
By contrast, the American Cable Association was delighted by the FCC initiative.
“ACA hopes the FCC will establish vigorous policies designed to stop TV station misconduct, including sudden TV signal blackouts as well as blocking MVPDs’ broadband subscribers from accessing otherwise free online content during or after a negotiating impasse,” said ACA President Matt Polka in a statement.
“The FCC also ought to require broadcasters to provide information substantiating their reasons for bargaining positions taken when requested to in the course of their negotiations, and bring a halt to the practice of TV stations insisting on setting prices, terms, or conditions for broadcast stations they may later acquire or for programming networks they may launch in the future as part of current retransmission consent negotiations,” Polka added.