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Bill to Eliminate TV Blackouts and Reform the Video Marketplace Introduced

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FCC logo.pngOn December 12th, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), senior Member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act to eliminate broadcast television blackouts and give consumers greater flexibility to choose the channels they receive each month from their cable, satellite or other pay-TV provider.

“During the three months since I released draft legislation – the message from individuals, communications companies and consumer groups has been abundantly clear: our video laws are in need of reform,” said Rep. Eshoo. “My bill would put an end to broadcast television blackouts and ensure consumers aren’t held hostage by a dispute they have no control over. Recurring TV blackouts coupled with the rising cost of broadcast television programming has left consumers frustrated and looking to Congress and the FCC for answers.

“To add insult to injury, consumers have begun seeing these programming increases in the form of below-the-line-fees on their monthly bills.” Rep. Eshoo continued, “I look forward to working with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee to advance meaningful bipartisan reform that promotes healthy competition, consumer choice and continued innovation across the video marketplace.”

“Internet users and television customers should not be held hostage when business negotiation disputes arise between cable and content providers,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “It’s unfair to subject consumers to service blackouts or blocked online content. This bill offers the basic consumer protections and choices they should receive in television and online services.”

John Strode, Vice President of External Affairs for Ritter Communications, a member of the American Cable Association, issued the following endorsement of the Video CHOICE Act:

“Ritter Communications commends Rep. Eshoo for unveiling this badly needed video reform bill. In our view, Rep. Eshoo’s bill will succeed in updating the broken retransmission consent system as well as halting broadcasters’ efforts to use consumers as pawns in seeking excessive fees from video providers like Ritter.

“Ritter is especially pleased that Rep. Eshoo’s will give the Federal Communications Commission clear authority to stop a TV station’s signal blackout directed at Ritter’s customers. The bill also says consumers do not have to purchase the video package that contains just those TV stations that receive payment for carriage. We believe Ritter customers will applaud Rep. Eshoo when they learn that these important pro-consumer changes are in her bill.

“In the age of Netflix, YouTube and Apple TV, Rep. Eshoo’s reform bill is timely not only because the market has changed so dramatically since the current rules were adopted in 1992, but also

because consumers have no more patience with broadcasters that engage in signal blackouts as a strategy to reap huge fee increases.”

The Video CHOICE Act has five key provisions:

  1. Preventing Broadcast Television Blackouts
    Gives the FCC explicit statutory authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse.
  2. Ensuring Consumer Choice in Cable Programming
    Ensures that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.
  3. Wholesale Unbundling of Broadcast Stations in Retransmission Consent Negotiations
    Prohibits a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming.
  4. Examination into the Blocking of a Broadcast Station's Owned or Affiliated Online Content During Retransmission Consent Negotiations
    Instructs the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station's owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in "good faith."
  5. FCC Study of Sports Programming Costs
    Calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.

A copy of the bill can be found here.

About Ritter Communications:

Ritter Communications, founded in Marked Tree, Arkansas and headquartered in Jonesboro, began providing local phone service in 1906. Today, Ritter serves 57 communities and more than 45,000 customers in northeast and north central Arkansas and west Tennessee with advanced voice and data services typically found only in major metropolitan areas. Ritter invests heavily in the communities it serves by deploying proven, best in class infrastructure and technology while coupling it with a world class customer focused experience.

Residential consumer services include local and long distance phone service, cable television and high speed Internet. Business services include customized communications systems and services, including, broadband Internet services, Managed Voice, data center services, Ethernet connectivity, customized networking and hosted applications. For more information, visit rittercommunications.com or facebook.com/rittercommunications.

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