The FCC is now taking comments on the proposal to do away with the syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication protection rules. The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, about which we wrote here, was published in the Federal Register today, giving interested parties until May 12 to file their initial comments, and until June 9 to file their replies. As we wrote last week, the abolition of these rules could affect the retransmission consent negotiation process, by allowing multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs – cable and satellite TV) to replace the programming of a television station that does not agree to proposed retransmission consent fees with the signal of another distant television station carrying the same programming. We note that the same FCC order contained a prohibition against two non-commonly owned stations in the same market from jointly negotiating retransmission consent agreements. That part of the decision was not published in the Federal Register, meaning that the 30 day clock leading to its effective date has not yet begun to run.
While some suggest that the network nonduplication and syndex rules could be replaced by more definitive contracts between stations and programmers, limiting a station’s right to consent to having its signal exported to another market, the Commission asks many questions including how enforceable such contracts would be, and whether the abolition of these rules would have an impact on localism. The important issues raised by the Further Notice should be considered carefully by stations and MVPDs, and comments should be submitted to the FCC by the deadlines set out in today’s Federal Register publication.