The American Cable Association (ACA) said today that it has sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin asking for a “quiet period” during the upcoming round of retransmission agreements that will take place in the same time frame as the broadcasters’ transition to digital signals.

The ACA is concerned that if signals are dropped by broadcasters during the retransmission negotiations, cable operator subscribers will blame the cable operators for channels going off of the air.

The Petition for Expedited Rulemaking – filed by ACA members Mediacom Communications, General Communications Inc. (GCI) and other operators on April 24 – would prevent broadcasters from removing their signals from an operator’s system, a practice that the ACA said has been used in the past by broadcasters to gain leverage during retransmission consent negotiations. 

Retransmission agreements for between 3,000 and 5,000 small- and medium-size, independent cable systems are set to expire on Dec. 31. In the letter, the ACA asked that the FCC act on its request immediately.

Citing the confusion and public harm that would be done if operators are forced to drop a broadcaster’s signal in such close proximity to the digital TV transition, set for Feb.17, today’s letter requested a “modest quiet period” that would “absent a new retransmission consent agreement between the parties” and “require broadcasters and cable operators to maintain the status quo regarding the carriage of retransmission consent signals for a short period of time.” 

The proposed quiet period would maintain that status quo until May 31, 2009, to provide consumers with an adequate adjustment period.

“When broadcasters abuse their market power to demand exorbitant fees from small- and medium-size cable operators, consumers always pay the price,” said ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka, “but never more so than during the coming DTV transition. If broadcasters are allowed later this year and early next year to continue their practice of pulling signals during retransmission consent negotiations to force small operators into accepting unreasonable terms, all the tremendous work and effort that has gone into making the transition a success could be for naught.”

“We certainly cannot expect cable customers to distinguish between a disruption in service because of the transition and one caused by broadcasters pulling their signal. The Commission should do all it can to ensure contentious retransmission consent negotiations do not stand in the way of a smooth transition.”

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