Cable, satellite firms unite for retrans fight

New coalition asking for reform in FCC regulations

Companies that deliver TV to subscribers are hoping that government intervention will help keep carriage fees low.

The companies -- including competitors Time Warner Cable, Dish Network and DirecTV -- have formed a coalition that took its case Tuesday to the FCC.

In their FCC petition, the coalition claims that broadcasters have too much leverage in carriage disputes, considering their ability to pull programming and leave viewers stranded.

The coalition is positioning itself as an ally of the consumer, trying to hold down their prices as broadcasters -- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- seek to squeeze more money out of them.

"The commission's regulations governing retransmission consent -- which were created nearly 20 years ago -- are outdated and causing consumer harm," begins the 61-page petition.

"As broadcasters now demand significant cash for carriage of their signals, consumers are held hostage," says the coalition, which complains that pay-TV companies "must choose between a rock and a hard place: pay spiraling carriage fees and raise consumer rates or be forced by broadcasters to drop local signals."

The petition asks that the FCC consider arbitration and force continuation of carriage while the broadcasters and TV providers negotiate their deals.

"The commission plainly has authority to establish procedural mechanisms to address the consumer harms of retransmission consent disputes," the petitioners say.

Broadcast executives, meanwhile, argue that the pay TV companies ought to compensate them more because theirs usually is the most popular programming offered.

Included in the coalition are Verizon, Mediacom Communications, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems. Missing is the nation's top provider, Comcast, which is seeking government permission to purchase a 51% stake in NBC Universal.

The effort comes days after Disney ended its dispute with Cablevision over WABC in New York, where subscribers missed 12 minutes of the Oscar telecast while a deal was hammered out.

Financial details of that arrangement weren't revealed, but Moody's Investment Service opined Monday that Cablevision came out on top. Disney, Moody's said, "presumably ceded more ground than it would have liked."

As with Cablevision, Disney also must come to terms with TW Cable before consumers are treated to another retransmission battle during the summer.

Confirming its participation in the coalition, Cablevision said Tuesday, "The FCC should take action to protect consumers' interests and reform a system that is clearly broken, as illustrated most recently by ABC Disney pulling the plug on 3 million Cablevision households this past weekend."
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