D.C. Fed Up: Sen. Kerry Wants to Ban Carriage-War Blackouts

Cablevision and Fox standoff enters a fourth day, with no hope in sight

Last Updated: October 19, 2010 @ 1:43 PM

In an article Monday night, TheWrap warned how growing frustration over carriage wars could lead to government intervention. On Tuesday, as talks between Fox and Cablevision dragged into a fourth day, that moved a step closer to reality.

 

Sen. John Kerry inserted himself into the carriage battle between the two companies on Tuesday.

The Massachusetts Democrat wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for help in crafting a long term solution for resolving such disputes without having consumers lose TV signals.

The hostility exhibited between the two sides throughout the talks and the threat of a World Series blackout for some 3 million New York area residents, has ratcheted up speculation that lawmakers will be forced to intervene.

Kerry's call for action comes as the Fox and Cablevision appear to have hit an impasse in their negotiations.

The two companies held a short phone call on the issue on Tuesday, but remained far apart on a deal, according to a Fox spokesperson.

Cablevision continued its calls for Fox to enter into binding arbitration, while Fox slammed the cable provider for double speak. Fox noted that Cablevision submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission three weeks ago that argued against mediation in a different stand-off between the cable provider and Dish Network.

"The startling hypocrisy of Cablevision’s position – demanding one set of rules for itself, the exact opposite set of rules for Fox – proves that it will say and do anything to protect its profits," Fox said in a statement.

Kerry, who heads the Senate Commerce Committee’s telecom committee, announced a draft legislative proposal that would let the FCC send some disputes off to arbitration, but for the majority provide a procedure to let the FCC evaluate disputes and at least give cable and satellite customers more information before they lose channels.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today, Kerry asked for suggestions in how to craft final legislation.

“It’s not our job to take sides, but it is our responsibility to help find a better way forward,” Kerry said in the letter.“The goal of this legislation is to offer a path towards resolution that reforms a broken system and protects the consumers who get caught in the middle. … This system today isn’t working for anyone.”

For his part, Commissioner Genachowski released a statement saying that he had personally reached out to the Fox and Cablevision CEOs to urge them to accelerate talks and negotiate in good faith.

“I am deeply troubled that Cablevision and Fox are spending more time attacking each other through ads and lobbyists than sitting down at the negotiating table. The time for petty gamesmanship is over," Genachowski said in a statement. "We will continue to scrutinize their actions very closely."

Thus far, Genachowski has maintained that the two companies should hammer out a deal without government interference, but the appetite for a hands-off approach may be waning.

Kerry’s draft legislation follows the senator’s disenchantment with the current procedures. Kerry has complained before of blackouts that impacted college bowl games, the Oscars and other events.

Kerry’s legislation would create a procedure for the FCC to examine and evaluate disputes to determine if both sides had negotiated in good faith.

If they hadn’t the FCC could order arbitration of the disputes. If they had but instead had “honest disagreement on the value of the signal,” the FCC would prescribe the notice that had to be provided customers. That notice, the legislation says, would have to detail the differences in offers so customers themselves can assess who is to blame.

A spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association declined comment on the legislation and the letter.

Also read: "Cablevision, Fox Fuel Fire That Could Burn the Cable Industry."

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