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Cable Technology Feature Article

January 07, 2013

Retrans Disputes Led to 78-Percent Jump in Program Cutoffs by U.S. Broadcasters

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

Last year saw a major increase in the number of broadcasters cutting off programs to cable, telco and satellite providers – which led to renewed calls for Congressional action.

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) – which is largely an industry group – reports that there were some 91 instances of broadcasters cutting off programs in retransmission disputes during 2012. That represents a 78-percent increase over the number cut off during 2011.

"The facts speak for themselves," the ATVA said in a statement, which also called for federal action to remedy the situation.

“Broadcaster blackouts at the expense of consumers are here to stay unless policymakers take action,” the ATVA added. “Retransmission consent rules, more than two decades old, line broadcasters’ pockets rather than protect the interests of the American public. The FCC (News - Alert) and the 113th Congress need to make it their New Year’s resolution to protect consumers and change the ’92 Cable Act.”

But a different picture came from a statement issued by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

“Pay TV providers built their businesses on the backs of broadcast programming," Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman told Multichannel.com. "It’s not unreasonable for local TV stations to ask to be fairly compensated for providing the most-watched programming on television.”

With the New Year under way, there are still some retransmission deals up in the air – so blackouts could be a possibility in 2013. The FCC is watching negotiations, but appears to be keeping a distance from getting heavily involved in the politically charged issue. It has made some “suggestions,” too, on how retransmission rules can be improved, Multichannel.com said.

“2013 will be different only if the 113th Congress and the FCC take action,” the ATVA warned in its statement.

Last year, there was a call to update the Cable Act of 1992, given the many changes that have taken place in technology over the 20-year-period. For instance, there has been an increase in fiber optic services as well as more providers that work over broadband. Cable TV is less dominant than it was, as well. Part of the 1992 law appears “increasingly archaic,” according to the National Journal. 

In June, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told a hearing of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, “I hope in the next Congress, we take this up.”

“We should examine whether the legal framework created 20 years ago still works for a video market filled with choices that did not exist even two or three years ago,” U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., agreed, according to news reports.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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