The proposal today from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif) offers just the kinds of reforms that pay TV execs want, especially following the recent 32-day blackout of CBS-owned properties on Time Warner Cable systems. Many cable and satellite providers say that they’re virtually powerless to resist broadcasters who demand big price increases for the right to retransmit their shows. The ranking Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee says her Video CHOICE Act would change that and ensure that pay TV subscribers aren’t “caught in the middle of a dispute they have no control over.” Her bill would give the FCC the authority to keep local TV stations on cable or satellite systems during negotiations. The proposal would bar owners of broadcast stations from making deals that also require pay TV providers to carry the company’s cable channels. It would give subscribers the freedom to order pay TV service without broadcast channels that demand high retransmission fees. (The signals are available for free to anyone with an antenna.) The Act also calls on the FCC to study the impact of sports networks on pay TV costs in the 20 largest regional sports markets. Eshoo offered her bill ahead of her subcommittee’s hearing this week to consider extending the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act — which expires at the end of 2014 — and to renew the FCC’s power to step in to retransmission disputes if it believes at least one side isn’t negotiating in good faith. Cable trade groups naturally were quick to endorse Eshoo’s effort. American Cable Association CEO Matthew Polka called it “a timely and thoughtful plan for addressing serious problems causing harm to consumers.” But National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith says it “could embolden pay-TV giants to continue to game the system” adding that “Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish are spending millions in Washington manufacturing a crisis over retransmission consent” although they are “responsible for nine out of 10 disruptions of service.” Last week CBS chief Les Moonves said it would be “dumb” for lawmakers to interfere with deals that “should be made in the free market.”
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