Two Senators in powerful positions to craft communications policy have floated a novel idea for addressing the mess that retransmission consent has become: a la carte for broadcast stations.
Congress this year needs to reauthorize STELA, legislation mainly concerning satellite TV, including DBS rebroadcasting of local stations. Congressional Republicans have blocked any reconsideration of the Communications Act of 1996, so both parties have been trying to use STELA as a vehicle for updating communications policies that have little to do with the satellite business. The House produced its version of a bill to reauthorize STELA last month; the Senate proposes to introduce its version when Congress returns to session in September.
The House version, controlled by the GOP, addressed the retrans problem with a proposal to bar collusion among local stations in retrans negotiations with cable companies.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller (a Democrat) and John Thune (a Republican) go further with a proposal to let TV viewers individually decide which broadcast channels they want to receive in their cable program bundles.
The plan would do little in the short run to reduce overall cable fees, but in the long run, if viewers can see how much they pay for each individual broadcast channel, then broadcasters who charge too much might find themselves losing viewers and therefore money.
The American Cable Association favors the notion, as does the American Television Alliance. The NCTA was neutral, while the NAB was flatly opposed.