Two Bay Area House members introduced a bill Thursday to eliminate broadcast television blackouts and give consumers more flexibility to choose the channels they receive each month from their cable, satellite or other pay-TV provider.
“During the three months since I released draft legislation – the message from individuals, communications companies and consumer groups has been abundantly clear: our video laws are in need of reform,” said Rep. Eshoo. “My bill would put an end to broadcast television blackouts and ensure consumers aren’t held hostage by a dispute they have no control over. Recurring TV blackouts coupled with the rising cost of broadcast television programming has left consumers frustrated and looking to Congress and the FCC for answers.”
Eshoo said she looks forward to working with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. – who like Eshoo serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – and committee leadership “to advance meaningful bipartisan reform that promotes healthy competition, consumer choice and continued innovation across the video marketplace.”
The issue came to the fore late last summer during a showdown between CBS Corp. and Time Warner Cable which left millions of Time Warner customers in major cities including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas without access to CBS’ broadcast stations and cable networks.
The bill has five key provisions. It would prevent broadcast television blackouts by giving the Federal Communications Commission explicit authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse. It would ensure that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.
It would prohibit a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming. It would instruct the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station’s owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in “good faith.” And it calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.
Lofrgren said “internet users and television customers should not be held hostage when business negotiation disputes arise between cable and content providers. It’s unfair to subject consumers to service blackouts or blocked online content. This bill offers the basic consumer protections and choices they should receive in television and online services.”