The FCC issued a public notice seeking comment on a Petition for Rulemaking filed by cable operator Mediacom asking for the FCC to require TV stations, in their license renewal applications, to certify that the licensee will not block any multichannel video programming distributor (i.e. cable or satellite TV) from carrying the signal of the station at the end of a retransmission consent agreement unless the station is accessible over-the-air or by Internet streams to at least 90% of the homes in the market served by the MVPD. Comments on this Petition are due by August 14. This is an initial Petition for Rulemaking (which can be viewed here), so these comments will inform the FCC as to whether to further pursue the proposals made in the Petition through a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would be needed before a rule change.
Obviously, this petition raises controversial issues. Mediacom asserts that it is looking after the interests of consumers in being able to access television programming – and not losing that access during retransmission consent negotiations. Broadcasters, on the other hand, feel that the ability to remove their signal from an MVPD is their most effective bargaining chip in retransmission consent negotiations. Broadcasters will no doubt argue that they have the rights to their programming and, if the MVPD will not agree to terms for its carriage, the MVPD should no longer have the right to carry the programming.
This is not the only retransmission consent proposal pending at the FCC, nor is it likely to be the last such issue that the FCC will need to consider this year. MVPDs have been arguing that increases in the retransmission consent fees received by broadcasters in recent years are not justified, while broadcasters feel that they are getting their just share of fees paid by MVPDs given the popularity of the broadcast programming. Under the STELAR legislation that was passed by Congress at the end of last year, the FCC needs to soon commence a rulemaking about the “good faith negotiation” rules that require the MVPD and the broadcaster to engage in good faith negotiations about retransmission consent agreements. That rulemaking proceeding will no doubt trigger many debates on these issues, so watch for this to be a hot issue later in the year.