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Congress to the rescue on the Cable retransmission battle

My friends in New York who have Cablevision are on day 14 of being without their World Series and other great Fox programming. My buds all over the country are calling and asking will they be next! Good thing for them it looks like more members of Congress are stepping up to do something about consumers being held hostage.

National Journal reported today:

A blackout of Fox television shows, including coverage of Major League Baseball’s World Series, is affecting nearly 3 million Cablevision customers in the New York City region—the latest in a string of signal shutdowns. Millions more viewers could be deprived this weekend. Fox and other broadcasters use the blackouts to gain leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite providers over terms for carrying their content. Viewers suffer as a result, and lawmakers are getting ready to intervene.

They have said much the same before. Promises to act usually subside once the disagreements are resolved. This time, Congress seems more serious.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of Commerce’s Communications Subcommittee, circulated draft legislation last week designed to make it tougher for broadcasters to pull their signals from pay-TV systems. The measure would arm the Federal Communications Commission with clearer authority to fine parties for failing to negotiate in good faith; under certain circumstances FCC could require binding arbitration. If talks should fail, consumers would have to be notified about channel disruptions.

During the lame-duck session of Congress, Kerry will introduce his bill and hold a hearing, tentatively set for November 17. “Nobody likes it when consumers get caught in the cross fire and television service is disrupted,” Kerry said in a written statement to National Journal. He said that his draft bill “doesn’t take sides” but instead overhauls “a broken system that currently incentivizes high-stakes confrontation and conflict when negotiations break down.” He added that consumers should not have to “arbitrarily lose the television service they paid for because of disputes they have nothing to do with.”

Kerry has strong support from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who declared in a separate statement: “The time has come for Congress to take a hard look at this issue because consumers deserve to get the local news, weather, traffic, and sports they pay for, rather than just dark screens and always escalating monthly cable bills.”

Even scarier for TV watchers is a brewing squabble between News Corp.’s Fox and the Dish Network that threatens to shut off Fox channels in 25 markets as early as midnight on Halloween. Affected cities would include Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles, where viewers are certain to be outraged over missing the contest between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants in the World Series. Also on the list is the District of Columbia, where lawmakers with satellite TV could lose channels.

Read More at National Journal

If you live in the DC area, or even if you don’t, catch me on WOL1450’s Tech Talk Show tomorrow at 7:15pm talking about cable retransmission! You can listen in the live Stream by Clicking Here!

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