Rep. Walden: Not So Fast On Retrans Reform

The Republican congressman says any changes “should not be hastily slapped together for the benefit of a few players in the industry.” And, he added, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act should not include retrans reform provisions.

House Communications and Technology Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on Wednesday made clear his opposition to an effort by the pay TV industry to win quick legislative reforms to water down the broadcast industry’s retransmission consent rights.

“A real update of the law should not be hastily slapped together for the benefit of a few players in the industry,” said Walden in a speech at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington. “A meaningful update of the Communications Act will require a … clearer understanding of the ramifications of any changes on the businesses involved and their consumers.”

Walden also made clear that he believes the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, or STELA — a measure that pay TV industry executives have targeted for their retrans reform efforts — should not include retrans reform provisions.

STELA, which gives satellite TV operators copyright clearance to retransmit distant broadcast signals, will expire at end of 2014 absent congressional reauthorization.

“It [STELA] is the wrong place to make changes in this legal regime,” said Walden, who also made clear that he thinks the more appropriate place to consider any changes in the law would be a multi-year effort to review the Communications Act that he announced with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Tuesday.

Walden said that any review of retransmission consent also should include a close look at the impact changes might have on the nation’s compulsory copyright licensing system.

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Walden, a former radio broadcaster, made clear his skepticism about the urgency of any need for retransmission consent reform. “The vast majority of retransmission consent agreements are revolved quietly, calmly and without incident,” he said.

“Americans enjoy quality and choice in video programming that is the envy of consumers in the rest of the world,” Walden added. “At the heart of this volume of video programming and choice lies retransmission consent: a recognition of the value of video programming.

“Policymakers must be sensitive to the ripple effect of even the smallest changes of law,” he added. “Video programming is valuable and creators of video content should be compensated fairly for their work.”

In a statement Tuesday, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, urged committee Republicans to proceed cautiously with their Communications Act review.

“Changes should not be made simply for change’s sake, but rather based on clear and documented need,” Dingell said. “I urge my colleagues to proceed in a bipartisan manner and to hold numerous hearings in order to generate the record an undertaking this substantial will require.

“This will affect a rapidly changing industry, with many jobs and billions of dollars in investment at stake. We should approach this in a balanced fashion in order to preserve and promote American leadership in the telecommunications industry,” Dingell added.


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