A hearing on cable industry oversight conducted on Tuesday by the Senate Commerce Committee focused on retransmission consent issues, as lawmakers and witnesses discussed proposals to revamp the 1992 Cable Act and to eliminate the cable/broadcast must-carry rules. Tuesday’s hearing came as DirecTV and Viacom reached agreement on a long-term retransmission contract last Friday that ended a week-long blackout which left DirecTV customers temporarily without access to Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV and other popular Viacom channels. As American Cable Association Chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah advised Senate panelists that retransmission disputes had already triggered 69 blackouts during 2012 alone, Senate communications subcommittee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) called on the industry “to construct an alternative to the disruption of service during negotiations.” However, in the interest of preserving local broadcasting, Kerry emphasized: “I would not support radical proposals to eliminate retransmission consent rights or must-carry requirements altogether.” Declaring that broadcasters, cable programmers, and cable operators are entitled to conduct market-based negotiations without government interference, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) argued in favor of his proposed legislation, the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, which would repeal the cable compulsory license as well as the FCC’s must-carry and retransmission consent rules. While acknowledging that many in the cable industry “will argue that the Cable Act has achieved its goals,” committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) cited rising cable rates and the inability of subscribers to select and pay only for the content they want in asserting: “I highly doubt many consumers would agree.” As Time Warner Cable executive vice president Melinda Whitmer acknowledged that the DeMint bill “has begun an important dialogue,” National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith suggested that the FCC should “insist that pay TV providers give viewers ample notice of a possible disruption in service,” mandate refunds to customers, and “allow customers to easily switch among competing pay TV providers without incurring financial penalties.”
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Retransmission consent debated at Senate hearing
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