FCC Enters Fox-Cablevision Carriage Dispute

6:11 PM PST 10/19/2010 by Georg Szalai

Chairman calls on the two companies to end their war of words and focus on reaching an agreement.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday called News Corp. president and COO Chase Carey and Cablevision Systems president and CEO James Dolan to urge them to end their war of words and focus on reaching an agreement in their carriage and retransmission consent dispute.

The public reprimand was the FCC's clearest comment on the dispute and came as Fox said the parties again failed to make progress during a brief telephone conversation Tuesday. They agreed to continue talks Wednesday.

The retrans showdown has left Cablevision video customers without Fox programming since midnight Friday.

"I am deeply troubled that Cablevision and Fox are spending more time attacking each other through ads and lobbyists than sitting down at the negotiating table," Genachowski said. "The time for petty gamesmanship is over."

In his call to top company executives, identified by a spokeswoman as Carey and Dolan, the FCC chairman "reiterated the importance of reaching a deal, as many companies have done before." And, he added, "I reminded the companies that they share responsibility for consumer disruption and that they shouldn't punish consumers because of their unwillingness to reach a deal."

A Cablevision spokesman Tuesday again called for binding arbitration as "the fastest and fairest way to return Fox programming to our customers." Fox accused Cablevision of "startling hypocrisy," noting that the cable operator recently argued against arbitration when its channels had a carriage dispute with satellite TV firm Dish Network.

Also on Tuesday, the political push to update retrans regulations and how to deal with disputes gained momentum as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., outlined a draft reform bill that he hopes will take "the smartest, least intrusive actions to reform the law."

His draft calls for both a broadcaster and distributor to go through a process with the FCC to ensure good-faith negotiations without broadcast signals being pulled.

If both sides are found to have negotiated in good faith but can't reach an agreement, the FCC could request binding arbitration under the Kerry proposal. If one party refuses, consumers would be informed about the difference in offers "so that consumers can judge for themselves who was making the fairest offer" before a loss of signal, Kerry said.

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