commentary by Steve Effros Repeal Retransmission Consent I’ve been seeing a lot of press coverage lately about the increasingly contentious battles over retransmission consent. Consumers are being denied access to local network affiliates, local news, local tornado warnings by local TV stations intent on demanding money for cable carriage. The most often cited argument is that … well… "DBS pays a per sub fee to carry us, so you should, also." Nonsense. First, there is a vast difference between what a satellite company does with a local signal and what the local cable operator does. Second, the satellite guys shouldn’t pay for the signal either! Let’s take them in reverse order. Broadcasters get free, over-the-air spectrum. Indeed, the spectrum they have been given by the government is the "beachfront property" of spectrum. It’s the best. The deal was they deliver programming to the local public that satisfied local needs in exchange for the spectrum…. That they broadcast "…in the public interest." Study upon study has shown that they have not been doing so for years. Ultimately the FCC had to set rules for the number of commercials broadcasters could run, and special rules for children’s programming hours since they did not do it on their own. The logic behind the "must carry" rules was that broadcasting is, as a policy matter, of value for the nation to maintain. It is "…in the public interest" that people are able to see "free, over the air broadcasting," even though most people do not ultimately receive it that way. There is a reason for that. Over the air broadcasting, particularly in dense, city areas or in the vast American countryside, is not that easy to receive over the air. That’s why cable developed. We provide a service for the broadcasters: we deliver the signals to viewers that they failed to deliver on their own. If anything, broadcasters should be paying us for carriage, not the other way around! Again, look at their own system: the networks pay "compensation" to the local affiliates for local delivery of the network signal! Now, after it has become clear that they are not really doing a good job of delivering that signal to the viewer and the viewer has found a way to improve reception, the local broadcaster says we should pay them for the service we provide to consumers! What nonsense. Our service is of value to the broadcaster. They should pay us. If it is valid public policy "in the public interest" that local broadcasts should be available to everyone, in exchange for free spectrum, then no one should be paying the broadcasters, including DBS! In reality, the broadcasters have actively blocked any notion of mandated "public interest" programming on their free spectrum (one of the reasons at least one Commissioner recently voted against giving them even more carriage rights – the validity of the "public interest" argument to him apparently doesn’t pass muster any more). But note that DBS does something very different from cable. It takes the local signal, ships it out of town, re-processes it, and brings it back in as a program tier. Locally, we simply enhance reception for all customers. So maybe the refrain "…well, they pay, so should you," sounds good to a reporter, but it’s poor logic. No one should be paying broadcasters more to be able to see "free, over-the-air" broadcasting. If they want a business like that, they should give back the free public spectrum first. It’s time to repeal retransmission consent.

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