Press Release

Public Knowledge Asks Consumer Protections In Cable-Broadcaster Battles

December 31, 2009 ,

Background: There are two disputes around the country between cable companies and TV networks over carriage of programming. One is between Time Warner Cable and Fox, the other between Mediacom and the Sinclair broadcasting chain. If unresolved, cable subscribers would lose access to broadcast programming starting tomorrow.

The following statement is attributed to Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge:

“It's a shame consumers all over the country are once again caught in the middle of a dispute between cable companies and TV broadcasters over the terms of popular programming being carried on cable systems. It's an unfortunate situation in which no one wins. For 2010, the situation has to change or consumers will, time after time, lose again either through loss of programming or higher cable rates. The current disputes between Time Warner Cable and Fox makes millions of consumers pawns, and the disagreement between Mediacom and Sinclair puts another 700,000 consumers at risk of losing access to, among other things, popular sports programming including a home town team in a big bowl game.

“These battles validate what I told the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet this past February – Congress and/or the FCC should examine the current retransmission consent process and consider whether the system needs adjustments to ensure that viewers are not disenfranchised.

“Most importantly, policymakers should consider requiring interim carriage of over-the-air stations should a retransmission consent agreement expire while the parties are still negotiating. The current standoffs would both benefit from an interim carriage fix. In addition, policymakers should examine other proposed reforms, including: 1) mandatory unbundling of programming; 2) elimination of the prohibition against cable and satellite operators importing “distant” broadcast signals; 3) transparency for all retransmission consent contracts; and 4) a requirement that retransmission consent licenses be on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

“These changes would go a long way to helping to keep cable rates down and consumers out of the line of fire when big companies have business disagreements.”