Congress Needs To Curb Broadcaster Blackout Abuses, She Says
PITTSBURGH, April 2, 2014 – American Cable Association Chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah, in a speech launching ACA’s 21th Washington Summit, said Congress needs to act on a series of retransmission consent reforms supported by the independent cable community in the bill to extend the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA).
“We are very pleased Congress is considering changes to the rules governing retransmission consent as part the renewal of STELA, which is considered a must-pass bill this year. A few weeks ago, ACA went public with a list of policy proposals that should be addressed by Congress in this legislation. While the list is ambitious, it is also necessary to protect the interests of ACA members,” Abdoulah said.
Abdoulah praised the ACA Board, staff and strategic partners directed by President and CEO Matthew M. Polka for elevating ACA’s standing in Washington to an enviable level and making ACA the indisputable voice of the independent cable community.
Abdoulah, who is CEO and Chairwoman of WOW! Internet, Cable and Phone in Englewood, Colo., called for legislative action in remarks to hundreds of ACA Members in her final ACA Summit speech as ACA Chairwoman, a position she assumed in 2011.
In terms of specifics, Abdoulah recommended:
- Congress should clarify that the FCC has the authority to prevent consumer blackouts by either (1) ordering interim carriage and alternative dispute resolution or (2) preventing broadcasters from pulling signals during periods of time important to subscription TV providers and their customers — similar to the broadcasters’ sweeps week protection.
- Congress should clarify that a TV station that blocks its freely available Internet content during a retransmission consent impasse is a per se violation of the good faith rules; and
- Congress should clarify that TV stations that elect retransmission consent need to be placed in their own tier and not included in any programming tier that customers must purchase to become cable subscribers.
Abdoulah said that ACA’s public policy agenda extended beyond retransmission consent to include updating the program access rules so they provide meaningful protections for the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC); avoiding the heavy regulation of the Internet; and supporting broadband subsidy programs for high cost rural areas that are easily accessible to smaller cable operators and do not waste scarce taxpayer dollars by supplying funds to locations already served by ACA members.
ACA would, Abdoulah said, continue to work with the FCC to ensure the ability of buying groups like NCTC to qualify under the pro-competitive program access rules.
“With the level of cable-affiliated programming on the rise — and scheduled to increase even more if the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is approved — NCTC simply has to have the capability to challenge unfair acts or practices by cable-affiliated programmers, as Congress intended,” she said.
Abdoulah noted that in the coming year, the FCC will be reexamining its Open Internet rules and repeated that because ACA will continue to comply with the FCC’s 2005 Net Neutrality principles, new rules and regulations were unnecessary. But she urged the FCC that new Open Internet rules, if adopted, must also address the potential harm on consumers that could be caused by content owners.
“We believe that if the FCC imposes some form of anti-discrimination rules on broadband providers, the rules need to apply to content providers in order to prevent them from blocking broadband customers from accessing otherwise freely available content. Examples of this would be what CBS did to Time Warner Cable and BrightHouse Network customers and what FOX did to Cablevision during retrans disputes,” Abdoulah said.
Abdoulah endorsed the goal of universal and affordable broadband access with government support, but she said the government should not provide support in areas already served by providers that relied on only private risk capital to do so.
“If we spend our own capital to bring broadband to these communities, there is absolutely no reason for the government to step in. Not only does it discourage private investment, it is also a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Abdoulah said.
The ACA Summit, taking place April 1-3 at the Grand Hyatt, 1000 H Street NW, Washington, D.C, is unique for highlighting the special role that independent cable operators play in providing world class communications services to consumers in hometown America.
The theme of this year’s summit – Our Time Is NOW! – underscores the important legislative and regulatory goals ACA and its Members are pursuing on Capitol Hill and at the FCC.
Please visit the ACA Summit 2014 website by clicking here: ACA Summit.
About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing about 850 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA’s members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit https://acaconnects.org/.