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ACA Applauds FCC Response To Fox’s Cablevision Blackout

One week into Fox TV's blackout of millions of Cablevision System Corp. subscribers, the Federal Communications Commission asked both companies to explain by Oct. 25 how their standoff squared with the law that requires them to bargain "in good faith."

American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka commended the FCC for recognizing a problem and providing appropriate oversight.

"Fox's ongoing boycott of millions of Cablevision customers has resulted in serious consumer harm, judging by the precipitous decline in local ratings for such hit shows as House, Glee as well as the Oct. 17 New York Giants football game. Fox's action is not unique because TV stations across the country prefer to play hardball with small cable operators by threatening to pull signals and by actually pulling signals unless broadcasters' outrageous and discriminatory cash demands are met."

Fox, owned by News Corp., pulled its signals on early Saturday, Oct. 16, leaving 3 million Cablevision customers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey without normal access to Fox programming.  At 12:01 a.m. Fox affiliate WNYW channel 5 and independent station WWOR channel 9 in New York went dark. WTXF in Philadelphia also went dark for Cablevision customers as did cable networks Fox Deportes, NatGeo Wild and Fox Business Network.

FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake said in an Oct. 22 letter to News Corp. president Chase Carey and Cablevision president and CEO James Dolan that the FCC wanted each to describe how his company was satisfying the good-faith requirement. Lake noted that the retrans dispute extended "beyond just Fox and Cablevision" and affected "millions of innocent consumers" who want to watch their broadcast TV programming without interruption.

 "ACA commends the FCC for sending a letter to Fox looking for a good reason to intervene in the current dispute, where Fox has imposed a blackout on 3 million Cablevision customers for at least nine consecutive days. However, as ACA and many other groups, including programmers, satellite providers, and public interest groups, have said, the FCC has the authority to act beyond instances where there is a `good faith' violation,"  Polka said.

ACA is a partner in a coalition that asked the FCC in March to conduct a rulemaking designed to reform retransmission consent and prevent the consumer harm so evident in Fox's decision to stage a boycott against Cablevision's customers.

"We urge the FCC to explore every opportunity available to protect consumers, including launching the pending request for rulemaking on reform of the retransmission consent rules, which will enable a public discourse on the full extent of the FCC's authority to act and help decide what changes to existing regulations are needed to protect consumers, including mandated binding arbitration and signal carriage until agreements are reached," Polka said.

On Oct. 19, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) responded to the crisis by circulating draft legislation intended to protect consumers who he said "get caught in the middle." The legislation would, among other things, prompt parties that have reached an impasse to submit the dispute to the FCC for mediation.

"ACA commends Sen. Kerry for demonstrating courage and leadership in crafting draft legislation that would address the needs of consumers when injured by rash and reckless signal-pulling by TV broadcasters, who have been given billions of dollars in free spectrum to serve the public interest. ACA agrees with Sen. Kerry's conclusion that the retransmission consent regime is outdated and broken, and it pledges to work with him and all reform-minded members of Congress interested in developing a solution that alleviates consumer harm inflicted when monopoly broadcasters leverage wholly unjustified regulatory advantages," Polka said.

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