ACA, NCTA speak out for mandatory quiet period

Wed, 09/17/2008 - 8:35am
Mike Robuck

Both the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the American Cable Association (ACA) urged members of congress to enact a “quiet period” on retransmission talks ahead of next year’s digital TV transition.

During yesterday’s hearing, “Status of the DTV Transition: 154 Days and Counting,” held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow said the quiet period for retransmission negotiations was necessary to avoid consumer confusion as the transition to all-digital signals by broadcasters takes place.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is in favor of a voluntary quiet period, but opposes a mandatory measure.

“Now this is relevant in the short term to the digital transition because most of the retrans agreements will expire around Dec. 31 of this year,” McSlarrow said. “So, we have been having conversations with our friends in the broadcasting industry about a quiet period, but the problem is if you are putting consumers to the choice of either paying a higher bill, or the cable operator insists on protecting the interest of the consumer, then the threat is going to be the broadcaster is going to pull the signal. 

“And when are they going to do that? Well they are going to do that in January, the precise period of time the NAB’s voluntary quiet period does not cover. So you have this odd lapse of time where the food fights are undoubtedly going to break out where consumers have two choices: pay a higher bill or lose a signal.” 

The digital transition is slated for Feb. 17 of next year. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started a trial last week in Wilmington, N.C.

“I would urge this Committee to make clear in unmistakable terms, in the short term, to broadcasters around the country that the digital transition is not business as usual,” McSlarrow said.

The ACA has also been battling for a mandatory quiet period for some time. ACA President Matthew Polka said a quiet period “would insure consumers are not unnecessarily confused by the loss of a broadcast station, particularly for reasons unrelated to the switch to digital,” in a press release issued yesterday.

“With so many consumers still confused about the digital transition, the prudent course of action for the government would be to impose a quiet period that begins prior to the expiration of thousands of retransmission consent agreements on Dec. 31,” Polka said. “This would ensure that broadcast signals remain on cable and satellite TV systems in the critical period before the digital transition, thereby eliminating any chance whatsoever of consumer confusion because of retransmission consent impasses.”

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