Late last week, two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would eliminate all retransmission consent rules, all “compulsory license” rules and all restrictions on media combinations in local markets.
The introduction of the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act was hailed by DirecTV and the American Cable Association (ACA) and drew immediate dismissal from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
It is hard to see how the introduction of the bill by the two Republican congressmen – Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) – is anything other than political posturing.
The timing is simply bad. Because the current legislative session is very close to its end, it is highly unlikely that both the House and Senate will have time to consider the bill.
Should Congress take up the issue, it is an absolute certainty that the political argument will be bitter and inconclusive. DeMint and Scalise are doctrinaire about deregulation, a sentiment not shared by the rest of Congress.
Of course, there’s bitter disagreement about deregulation when it comes to the private interests involved. As vociferous as anyone in the cable industry might be about the need for reformation of current retrans rules, the broadcasting industry will be just as strenuous in opposition to any change.
Given the provision that would allow media consolidation in local markets, free speech advocates would no doubt line up against the bill, as well.
The goals of the bill, according to DeMint and Scalise, are to:
- Repeal those provisions of the Communications Act that mandate the carriage and purchase of certain broadcast signals by cable operators, satellite providers and their customers.
- Repeal the Communications Act’s “retransmission consent” provisions and the Copyright Act’s “compulsory license” provisions, thereby allowing negotiations for the carriage of broadcast stations to take place in the same deregulated environment as negotiations for carriage of non-broadcast channels, such as Discovery, Food Network and AMC.
- Repeal ownership limitations imposed on local media operators, allowing businesses to evolve and adapt to today’s dynamic communications market.
ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka said: "The American Cable Association applauds Sen. DeMint and Rep. Scalise for showing vision and leadership in introducing legislation aimed at reforming outdated laws and regulations. We are particularly encouraged that they are seeking to update and modernize the laws that govern the video market to promote competition and to better serve the interests of consumers, especially those located in rural markets with unique economic issues.”
But despite the support, the ACA signaled how unlikely it expects the bill’s passage would be when Polka subsequently stated: "ACA greatly appreciates that with this legislation, Congress will open a dialogue – an action long overdue – on reforming communications laws and regulations that have sat around far too long and failed to keep pace with changes in the market.”