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The TWC and CBS blackout debacle is showing once again that we need to reform our video market. For this to happen, the people have to be vocal and call for reform. The McCain/Blumenthal Cable Bill – S.912 is the first step on that path and it needs more co-sponsors.
Even the most ardent free market mavens will tell you, the current system where broadcasters can withdraw their free broadcast signal and demand payment for retransmitting it has nothing to do with a free market.
It all started with the market distorting gift of free broadcast licenses to use the public airwaves to broadcasters like CBS by the government. In exchange for this and other regulatory goodies, they have one responsibility – provide free programming to the public in their local market. For reasons I won’t get into (but you can read about at length here), Congress in 1992 gave broadcasters the right to demand cable operators pay to retransmit this free broadcasting signal, thus spawning the current consumer-abuse machine known as “retransmission consent.”
At the same time, no one believes cable operators are heroes nobly fighting to protect helpless customers from greedy broadcasters. As we at Public Knowledge have repeatedly pointed out, the current video market has become utterly dysfunctional, with lots of blame on all sides as giant media conglomerates on both the programming and the cable side try to maximize their market power to keep out disruptive competitors while reaping monopoly profits (and hurting consumers).
The time has come for Congress to fix this broken system. For that to happen the American people need to make it clear they have had enough of being abused by powerful media conglomerates who treat them as products to be sold rather than customers to be respected and served. The CBS blackout needs to become a “Network moment” where we tell Congress “we’re mad as Hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore! Congress created this mess in 1992, and now only Congress can fix it!”
Unlike the fictional Howard Beale, however, I do have an actual action item for people interested in actually doing something to fix this. Tell your Senators to support S.912, the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 (TCFA). Tell your House member as well, so they know you’re pissed and that you want this problem fixed.
For those not familiar with the TCFA, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced it back in May. Recently Co-Sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the bill makes a good start at fixing a number of the problems that create messes like the current CBS/TWC fight and pushes media companies toward more consumer-friendly (or at least less consumer abusive) models.
More practically, nothing is going to prompt CBS to back away from further abusing consumers on a national basis and get both parties back to the negotiating table than the threat of actual legislation. If members of Congress start making statements that CBS needs to stop dragging broadband subscribers who have nothing to do with this into their programming fights and co-sponsoring legislation to impose a legislative fix that CBS hates, then CBS will back down faster than you can say “must-see TV.”
But that won’t happen unless members of Congress start hearing from you. Tell your Senators, “I’m mad as Hell and I want you to fix this! No, I don’t care if it’s CBS’ fault or Time Warner Cable’s fault. Congress created this problem, and only Congress can fix it. So fix it!”