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A Fix for a Growing TV Debacle

Andrew Moylan
January 25, 2012

Recently, I wrote about a brewing disaster in the world of television called retransmission consent in a post called "Government screws up your TV." Basically, disputes between television content providers (e.g. ABC) and television service providers (e.g. DirecTV) that play out on a heavily-tilted playing field threaten to cause blackouts for consumers that are entirely avoidable if only we had a policy structure that made sense. Well, the issue is rearing its ugly head again as a dispute between DirecTV and Sunbeam Television has drawn the interest of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a legislator who has long had his eye on a legislative "fix" to the problem that would empower bureaucrats and do little to solve the underlying problem. (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that a prolonged blackout threatens to keep many Boston-area viewers from being able to watch their Patriots play in the upcoming Super Bowl)

In a phrase that I utter approximately once a month, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) to the rescue! In conjunction with Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), he has introduced a great bill called the "Next Generation Television Marketplace Act." This bill takes exactly the kind of approach that I counseled in my post:

"Congress drafted rules that protected content providers from what was essentially a cable monopoly back in 1992, a monopoly that no longer exists. The result is that content providers are exploiting that protection to the fullest, leading to episodes of brinksmanship like the Fox-Cablevision fight [2012 note: the Fox-Cablevision fight was the Sunbeam-DirecTV battle of its day].  The time has come for a free-market rewrite of telecom law generally and retransmission consent specifically, and forgive me if I think our would-be Windsurfer in Chief is the wrong guy to lead it."

Since I'm sure Jim DeMint reads everything I write and immediately drafts legislation based on my wisdom, the bill he drafted looks pretty great at first glance. It would do a few major things: repeal "must carry" provisions that force service providers to carry content whether they want to or not, repeal retransmission consent and compulsory license provisions in order to truly level the playing field between the two negotiators, and repeal ownership limitations that serve little purpose for consumers. By contrast, the approach Kerry had been floating would have inserted the FCC into the middle of these negotiations, with all of the politics and delays that come with them.

Though I'm still perusing some of the details, this looks to be a very promising bill and I hope that members from all parts of the political spectrum can come together to support it.



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