PITTSBURGH, July 8, 2008-In a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin today, the American Cable Association (ACA) formally registered its ‘strong support' of a petition to impose a quiet period between broadcasters and cable operators during the coming round of retransmission consent negotiations to prevent public confusion surrounding the coming digital TV transition in February 2009. The filing is available here.
The Petition for Expedited Rulemaking, filed by ACA members Mediacom Communications Corporation and General Communications, Inc. (GCI), and other operators on April 24, would prevent broadcasters from removing their signals from an operator's system, a practice used by broadcasters to gain leverage during retransmission consent negotiations. Retransmission agreements for between 3,000 and 5,000 small and medium-sized, independent cable systems are sent to expire on December 31, 2008. The ACA has asked that the Commission act on its request expeditiously.
Citing the confusion and public harm that would be done if operators are forced to drop a broadcaster's signal in such close proximity to the digital TV transition set for February 17, 2009, today's letter requested a ‘modest quiet period' that would "absent a new retransmission consent agreement between the parties, require broadcasters and cable operators to maintain the status quo regarding the carriage of retransmission consent signals for a short period of time." The proposed quiet period would maintain that status quo until May 31, 2009, to provide consumers with an adequate adjustment period.
"When broadcasters abuse their market power to demand exorbitant fees from small and medium-sized cable operators, consumers always pay the price," said ACA President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew M. Polka, "but never more so than during the coming DTV transition. If broadcasters are allowed later this year and early next year to continue their practice of pulling signals during retransmission consent negotiations to force small operators into accepting unreasonable terms, all the tremendous work and effort that has gone into making the transition a success could be for naught. We certainly cannot expect cable customers to distinguish between a disruption in service because of the transition and one caused by broadcasters pulling their signal. The Commission should do all it can to ensure contentious retransmission consent negotiations do not stand in the way of a smooth transition."
Existing three-year retransmission consent agreements between cable operators and broadcasters are generally set to expire by December 31, 2008, and independent cable operators are expecting to face difficult and potentially contentious negotiations with broadcasters who commonly charge small cable operators per subscriber fees more than 20 percent higher than larger operators for the same signals without any justification.
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About the American Cable Association
Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing 1,100 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit www.americancable.org.
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