Most conservatives and many prominent thinkers on the left agree that the Communications Act should be updated based on the insight provided by the wireless and Internet protocol revolutions. The fundamental problem with the current legislation is its disparate treatment of competitive communications services. A comprehensive legislative update offers an opportunity to adopt a technologically neutral, consumer focused approach to communications regulation that would maximize competition, investment and innovation.
Though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must continue implementing the existing Act while Congress deliberates legislative changes, the agency should avoid creating new regulatory disparities on its own. Yet that is where the agency appears to be heading at its meeting next Monday.
A recent ex parte filing indicates that the FCC is proposing to deem joint retransmission consent negotiations by two of the top four Free-TV stations in a market a per se violation of the FCC’s good-faith negotiation standard and adopt a rebuttable presumption that joint negotiations by non-top four station combinations constitute a failure to negotiate in good faith.” The intent of this proposal is to prohibit broadcasters from using a single negotiator during retransmission consent negotiations with Pay-TV distributors.
This prohibition would apply in all TV markets, no matter how small, including markets that lack effective competition in the Pay-TV segment. In small markets without effective competition, this rule would result in the absurd requirement that marginal TV stations with no economies of scale negotiate alone with a cable operator who possesses market power.