Cable: Rockefeller proposes blackout refunds, a la carte


Jay RockefellerSenate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that retransmission consent was but one issue facing the video marketplace, hinting that what competition there is between rival MVPDs isn’t working and noting that consumer choice does not exist.

Rockefeller made his remarks at the 7/24/12 hearing on “The Cable Act at 20” held under his gavel. His viewpoints were delivered from the consumer perspective – in addition to noting an allegedly competitive MVPD environment that fails to hold the line on pricing, and the fact that consumers are force fed programming they do not watch, he said that consumers are increasingly caught in the cross-fire between powerful corporations battling for dollars.

Here are Rockefeller’s full opening remarks.

“Two decades ago, we passed the Cable Act to promote competition and provide consumers with expanded choices at lower rates. Today, many consumers have a choice of video providers – cable, satellite, and from phone companies. Hundreds of channels have been created catering to almost every interest imaginable. The Internet now allows us to watch video on not just our televisions, but our computers, tablets, and phones. I know many in the industry will argue that the Cable Act achieved its goals. I highly doubt many consumers would agree. They feel like they pay too much and have very little choice in picking the content they receive.

“As this Committee continues its discussion about the future of video, we must take a hard look at the Cable Act’s impact on the modern television marketplace. I understand that some want to make this hearing about retransmission consent. And I agree that the millions of Americans who are currently victims of a number of high-profile, on-going programming disputes deserve answers as to why their screens have gone dark. Overheated rhetoric alleging greed and bad faith is of little comfort to someone paying for services they are not getting. It was certainly of no comfort to the tens of thousands of West Virginians who needed access to news, weather, and emergency information as they were recovering from a natural disaster earlier this month. When consumers lose channels in these corporate disputes, they should get a refund. It is only fair. But retransmission consent is just part of the puzzle.

“Although consumers often have the choice of video providers, rates continue to go up faster than the rate of inflation year in, year out. They are tired of it. I am tired of it. And rather than being able to pick smaller packages or choose the channels they want, consumers are still forced to purchase larger and larger packages of channels no matter how few they actually watch. This says to me that the market isn’t working. Real competition should be bringing rates down. It should be driving deployment. It should be bringing consumers more choices. It should be spurring new innovative products.

“Today, I want to take a close look at several core questions about the Cable Act. Why hasn’t competition succeeded in bringing rates down and more programming choices? Should the protections in the Cable Act for various entities be maintained? How do we make sure that consumers are protected and see real benefits as video moves to the Internet? To our witnesses, I look forward to your thoughts on these questions, and I thank you for joining us today.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Just wondering – who exactly would provide a refund to consumers during a blackout? Broadcasters cannot – they don’t take any money from consumers to give back. And it would hardly be fair to charge an MVPD money when a broadcaster is in fact guilty of bad-faith bargaining.

The FCC already had the power to step in when it sniffs bad faith – but what exactly does it smell like and how exactly can you source it? Both sides always think the other side is to blame, and even though the NAB is making a convincing case that only three MVPDs are behind the vast majority of blackouts, it is still an impossibility to prove on any one case.