FCC Should Embrace Its Proposal That Operators Notify Customers “As Soon As Possible” Of Programming Blackouts
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ted Hearn
PITTSBURGH, Feb. 7, 2020 – ACA Connects supports proposals by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure customers get the information they need when programming disruptions occur because of failed carriage negotiations. The flexibility offered by the FCC would reflect the reality that these hard-fought negotiations often go down to the wire and sometimes involve extensions.
FCC rules currently require cable operators to notify customers 30 days in advance of a change within their control of “programming services or channel positions.” The FCC has proposed a new rule clarifying that cable operators must notify customers “as soon as possible” of a programming lapse that occurs because of a failure of carriage negotiations in the final 30 days of an existing contract.
ACA Connects, in comments filed with the FCC on Feb. 6, said it agreed with the FCC that the proposed “as soon as possible” standard reflected true market activity and underscored the obvious point that cable operators, especially smaller ones, can’t control the negotiating tactics of large TV stations groups and massive cable programming conglomerators with which they negotiate.
“Carriage agreements are almost always renewed within days (or even hours) of their expiration, and sometimes following multiple short-term extensions. While cable operators engage in these negotiations with the goal of reaching a final deal, they cannot predict – much less ‘control’ – the behavior of the other party,” ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.
ACA Connects discouraged the FCC from requiring cable operators to notify customers every time potential lapses in programming that might occur if negotiations proved unsuccessful.
Such an approach would more likely harm than empower consumers, because the back-and-forth nature of these negotiations could lead to an inundation of false alarms. These notices could also mislead consumers, who might needlessly shoulder the cost of changing providers only to find out that no channel blackouts actually occurred.
Moreover, keeping customers apprised of every potential programming disruption comes at a cost, ACA Connects explained. The cost to deliver a high volume of notices would be particularly burdensome for the smaller operators that ACA Connects represents. They would have no choice but to pass on their cost increases to subscribers.
In a separate recommendation, ACA Connects urged the FCC to abolish the requirement for cable operators to notify local franchising authorities (LFAs) 30 days in advance of “any rate or service change.” Although LFA notification made sense when cable operators were heavily regulated locally years ago, ACA Connects said today notification is obsolete because nearly all LFAs lack the authority to regulate cable rates.
ACA Connects also encouraged the FCC to consider broader reforms of these cable-specific rules.
“The days of the monopoly cable provider are ancient history,” Polka said. “ACA Connects members face intense competition from many quarters. We therefore ask the FCC to consider abandoning these prescriptive notification rules that apply only to cable operators.”