FCC's Genachowski says it may be time for some new rules
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said it might be time to come up with some new rules if broadcasters and cable companies can't learn to play nice.
In an appearance at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Thursday about Comcast's proposed deal to take majority control of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, Genachowski was asked about recent feuds between broadcasters and cable companies over carriage fees for local television stations.
Earlier this week, a consortium of cable operators led by Time Warner Cable and Cablevision filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission asking for new rules about how distributors such as cable and satellite operators and broadcasters can negotiate with each other. In a nutshell, the cable operators want to take away a broadcaster's ability to yank its television signal off the air during a contract dispute. Cable operators instead would like regulations that would call for binding arbitration if the two sides cannot reach a deal on their own.
"Retransmission consent has been a topic of active consideration at the FCC," Genachowski said at the hearing, adding that the "framework that is in place ... may have lost pace with changes in the marketplace." Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, wanted to know if broadcasters should be prohibited from pulling their signals. Genachowski did not offer an opinion on that but did say it was important that the public not be caught off guard in these fights between distributors and local television stations.
Broadcasters gained the right to charge distributors cash or some other form of compensation to carry their local signals in the 1992 Cable Act, and they likely would resist any effort to take away the ability to pull a signal once a contract has expired and there is no new deal in place. Besides taking away any leverage broadcasters would have to negotiate, it would create an uneven playing field. Cable networks are not overseen by the FCC and can pull their signals in disputes.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images