The cable group tells the FCC that blocking viewers' access to online programming, "when used by broadcasters as a tactic in retransmission consent negotiations, should be deemed to violate the duty to negotiate in good faith."
NCTA: Ban Online Progam Blocking In Retrans
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has asked the FCC to ban broadcasters from blocking viewers’ access to their programming online to increase their leverage in retransmission consent negotiations.
Cable’s principal trade group said that the practice was “unfair” and a violation of broadcasters’ obligation under current rules to negotiate for retrans fees in good faith.
The request came in the FCC’s proceeding to determine whether any of its retrans rules need modification. The FCC launched the proceeding earlier this year at the request of Congress.
The NAB and individual station groups have asked the FCC not to make any changes to the rules.
“Some broadcast stations are owned by entities that also offer websites and online content that are generally available on the Internet to anyone with a broadband connection,” NCTA explained.
“That content may include some of the same programming that appears on their broadcast stations, which may be offered simultaneously with its transmission over the air by broadcast stations or on an on- demand basis. But the availability of such online programming to ISP customers typically has nothing to do with the contractual relationship between cable operators and broadcasters and is completely extraneous to retransmission consent negotiations.
“In these circumstances, the targeted blocking of a broadcaster’s online services to any of a cable operator’s broadband customers as a negotiating tactic in order to pressure the operator to accept the broadcaster’s terms and conditions for retransmission consent should be deemed to violate the duty to negotiate in good faith.
“As the commission has noted, such online blocking unfairly harms consumers who have no relationship to the dispute between the broadcast station and the cable operator,” NCTA said.
In addition, the group said: “But whether or not the unfair effect on consumers should, in itself, render blocking of online content by either side a violation of the good faith requirement, what makes such blocking by broadcasters particularly unfair is that it is a one-sided tactic that cable operators and other ISPs are already barred from using. The commission’s ‘Open Internet’ rules flatly prohibit cable operators and other broadband Internet service providers from blocking access to lawful content on the Internet. In these circumstances, allowing broadcasters alone to block such content to obtain bargaining leverage would distort rather than ensure good faith negotiations.”